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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.

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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.

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Opening Lines: IT by Stephen King

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 Stephen King’s IT.220px-It_cover
First, let’s take a look at the blurb:

Welcome to Derry, Maine. It’s a small city, a place as hauntingly familiar as your own hometown. Only in Derry the haunting is real.

They were seven teenagers when they first stumbled upon the horror. Now they are grown-up men and women who have gone out into the big world to gain success and happiness. But the promise they made twenty-eight years ago calls them reunite in the same place where, as teenagers, they battled an evil creature that preyed on the city’s children. Now, children are being murdered again and their repressed memories of that terrifying summer return as they prepare to once again battle the monster lurking in Derry’s sewers.

Now, let’s examine his Opening Line:

“The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years, –if it ever did end–began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.”

There’s a reason he’s called the King of Horror. Stephen King has many books with great openings, but I chose IT because of how well-crafted this line is.

Let’s break it down.

“The terror…”

Dictionary.com defines terror as intense, sharp, overmastering fear. Nuff said.

“…which would not end for another twenty-eight years, –if it ever did end…”

(As I state in each blog, in case you’re just now tuning in, the purpose of an opening line is to make the readers ask questions. They need to question what’s going on so that they can find out the answers by reading the rest of the book. And yes, you have to do this on line one.)

Now we know that this super frightening event/thing/experience/person/clown will reign for at least 28 more years, then it would end. Then King adds: “if it ever did end.” What does this mean? Why would he say that the terror would end in 28 years, and then contradict or at least correct himself by saying, if it ever did end. Why wouldn’t end? And what is this terror?

“…began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.”

And this is why I picked this Opening Line! How great is this?

We have a terror, a timeline, and now we know how it began, according to the narrator. Look at how he took the most innocent and childish event to start the terror’s reign: a paper boat floating down a gutter swollen with rain.

This is one of the bests from one of the bests.

Why would a terror begin, that may or may not end in 28 years, by a paper boat floating down a gutter? How could this even be possible? What’s in the gutter? How could a paper boat do anything, aside from floating?

These are just a few of the questions that this perfectly crafted Opening Line elicits that makes us want to know so much more. If you want to pick up a copy of this for yourself, click the Barnes & Noble link.

Opening Lines: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

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 Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One.

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First, let’s take a look at the blurb:

In the year 2045, reality is an ugly place. The only time Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the OASIS, a vast virtual world where most of humanity spends their days.

When the eccentric creator of the OASIS dies, he leaves behind a series of fiendish puzzles, based on his obsession with the pop culture of decades past. Whoever is first to solve them will inherit his vast fortune – and control of the OASIS itself.

Then Wade cracks the first clue. Suddenly he’s beset by rivals who’ll kill to take this prize. The race is on – and the only way to survive is to win.

Now, let’s examine his Opening Line:

“Everyone my age remembers where they were and what they were doing when they first heard about the contest.”

That’s a really great opener.

Let’s break this down a bit.

First we have, “Everyone my age remembers where they were and what they were doing…”

This implies a big deal. It doesn’t matter how old the person is that is saying this, if you hear it, you know they are about to tell you about something very significant.

It would be like me saying, “I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when the Twin Towers fell.”

Or an older generation saying, “I remember where I was and what I was doing when Kennedy was shot,” or “I remember where I was and what I was doing when Elvis died.”

These types of events are so significant that they leave a lasting impact on the memory.  We, as readers, know that with this type of phrasing, something big is coming.

Next we read, “…when they first heard about the contest.”

So the big thing has to do with a contest. As always, a great Opening Line makes us ask questions. In this case, we are left wondering, “What contest?” We also want to know why this contest is such a big deal? Typically a contest rewards the winner with a prize. Is it the prize that’s so important or the contest itself? Either way, we want to find out.

For these reasons alone, Ready Player One has a great Opening Line.

To read more or purchase this book, click the Barnes & Noble link.

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Opening Lines: Gunslinger Girl by Lyndsay Eli

Every writer knows that they have to capture the reader with an engaging opening line. For aspiring authors, the pressure isn’t just contained to the John Q. Public, but also the illustrious Gatekeepers of the writing world: Literary Agents. If you’ve ever written a book and tried to get it published, you know all about the horrors of impressing an agent with the dreaded query letter. Add to that the stress of pulling them into the world you’ve created, the world you’ve spent months in, if not years; a world they will never see if you don’t hook them with your Opening Lines. Because they live in a different world; they live in the real world…of publishing. In this Blog, we will examine the opening lines of published works.

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For today’s blog, we will examine the Opening Lines of Lyndsay Eli’s Gunslinger Girl. But first, here’s her blurb:

Seventeen-year-old Serendipity “Pity” Jones inherited two things from her mother: a pair of six shooters and perfect aim. She’s been offered a life of fame and fortune in Cessation, a glittering city where lawlessness is a way of life. But the price she pays for her freedom may be too great…

In this extraordinary debut from Lyndsay Ely, the West is once again wild after a Second Civil War fractures the U.S. into a broken, dangerous land. Pity’s struggle against the dark and twisted underbelly of a corrupt city will haunt you long after the final bullet is shot.

Her Opening Line: “They dragged in the dead scrounger in the fade of the afternoon, tied to the last truck in the convoy.”

Wow!

This is a great visual, and it leaves me wondering, what’s going on here? This is a great example of an opening line that leaves the reader wanting to know more about what’s happening in this scene. Without reading any more of her first paragraph, we have a vivid description of something very sinister that’s going on. We have virtually all of the top W’s here.

WHO? Who is the dead person?

WHAT? What happened that caused them to die?

WHEN? We do know that it’s late in the afternoon.

WHERE? Where are they dragging this person?

WHY? Why is the scrounger being dragged in the first place?

Let’s take a closer look.

“They dragged in the dead scrounger in the fade of the afternoon…” Here we have the first part of the sentence that implies two things:

A. We have a dead person. Not just any deceased person, but one who survives by foraging or sponging off of others–a scrounger. We don’t know enough about what’s going on here to make any significant assumptions about this person, but we do know the narrator is calling them a scrounger, suggesting that this is a common name used for these types of people. This makes the reader ask, what happened to this person? How did they die? Why are they being called a scrounger? Are there other scroungers?

B. They’re being dragged in. This begs us to question where “in” is. Is it a cemetery? Is it a town? Is it a military base? Why are they being dragged in the first place?

Then we have the next part of the line that takes us down the same dark road that the truck is traveling on. This is the part that effectively sends shivers up our spines.

“…tied to the last truck in the convoy.”

HOLY SMOKES!

They are driving a truck, which is part of a convoy, so we know there are several trucks all going to the same place, but the last truck is dragging a corpse. Maybe it’s tied with rope. Maybe the scrounger’s wrist is handcuffed to its bumper. I don’t know, but I want to. And how long have they been dragging this person? Does this scrounger even have any skin left on their body? (Just try Googling “Severe Road Rash” if you’re having trouble imagining the scene here.) What kind of sick people do this? Who is witnessing this? Are there kids around who might be subjected to watching this body being eaten and destroyed by either gravel, dirt, or pavement?

If you want to know more about Pity’s role in this crazy, crazy world, click the Barnes & Noble link and add it to your cart. You won’t regret it!

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