Since I’ve just begun writing my novel – about a hopeless reverend who comes face to face with very difficult decisions in a world where no one lives past their thirtieth birthday – I’ve been thinking a lot about the first sentences of great novels.
I went looking for great opening sentences to see how the greats have all done it, and I wanted to share with you some of my favorites.
Here they are, in no particular order:
- It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. — George Orwell, 1984 (1949)
- Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting. —William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury (1929)
- Mother died today. —Albert Camus, The Stranger (1942; trans. Stuart Gilbert)
- All this happened, more or less. —Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)
- There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. —C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)
- He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. —Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea (1952)
- It was a pleasure to burn. —Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
- It was love at first sight. —Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (1961)
- It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York. —Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar (1963)
What I love about all of these sentences is that they give away nothing but somehow tell us everything at the same time. A good first sentence should plunge a reader right into a new world, but shouldn’t reveal everything all at once. There needs to be a revelation and a mystery about where the reader is.
With this in mind, I’d also like the share the first sentence of the novel I am currently working on. Obviously, this is the first draft, so who knows if this sentence will stay or go in the long run. But in any case, I quite like it.
Here it is:
“There were places that fared worse, where the necessity of the necessities so overwhelmed the fabric of the collective ego, where technological maintenance (never mind advancement) had to be put on hold in the interest of self preservation.”
What I hope this sentence does is introduce the reader to a world where something is not quite right, where society has been forced to stop focusing on making things better and rather focus on simply keeping everyone alive.
Does it accomplish this? I think it needs some work, but it’s a good start.
What do you think?