February 22, 2013 by Ray Yanek
Writers get one shot, one chance. Whether writing fiction or non-fiction, a novel or an essay, a writer must hook the reader with the first page, sometimes the first paragraph, sometimes just the first sentence.
Because of this fact, the reading public has been blessed with some wonderful opening lines and paragraphs.
Fridays here at Writing the Rails then, will be a day to celebrate and share opening passages from writings of all forms. If you’re a writer, maybe you’ll pick up some pointers on how to work openings of your own. If you’re a reader, maybe you’ll find something here that will ultimately lead you to the entire work.
And please get involved. If you’re reading something that had an interesting opening, or if there is an opening that sits in your head like some of the ones I’ll present here sit in mine, please share them in the comments. If you’re working on something of your own and you’re proud of your own first line then by all means put in the comments, too.
Now, just to get it out of the way, let me share “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”
Now let us never speak of that opening again… 🙂
First-Line Friday: from Skinny Dip by Carl Hiaasen
“At the stroke of eleven on a cool April night, a woman named Joey Perone went overboard from a luxury deck of the cruise liner M.V. Sun Duchess. Plunging toward the dark Atlantic, Joey was too dumb-founded to panic.
The impact tore off her silk skirt, blouse, panties, wristwatch and sandals, but Joey remained conscious and alert. Of course she did. She had been co-captain of her college swim team, a biographical nugget that her husband obviously had forgotten.
Bobbing in its fizzy wake, Joey watched the gaily lit Sun Duchess continue steaming away at twenty nautical miles per hour. Evidently, only one of the other 2,049 passengers was aware of what had happened, and he wasn’t telling anybody.
Bastard, Joey thought.
She noticed her bra was down around her waist, and she wriggled free of it. To the west, under a canopy of soft amber light, the coast of Florida was visible. Joey began to swim.
I read Skinny Dip years ago, but when I thought of a strong openings, this passage came to me almost word-for-word.
That’s what a good opening does: It sticks with you.
Hiassen’s start here is vivid and the strong verbs makeing the scene pop. Hiassen thrusts the reader directly into the action, he sets the stage, and puts a young (and naked, have I mentioned she ends up naked, yet?) lady into danger.But I think it’s the juxtaposition of tones and the dry, unexpected response from Joey (who ends up naked, by the way) that hooked me. The first paragraph reads almost like true crime novel, or the start of an episode of 48 Hours Mystery. From the victim, obviously, we would expect panic and terror, thrashing and screaming. We don’t expect the calm thoughts Joey has, yet at the same time calling your spouse both an ‘asshole’ and a ‘bastard’ after being pushed off a cruise ship feels, somehow, strangely realistic.
Oh, and she ends up naked. In the ocean.
But in all seriousness, paired with Joey’s responses and the way she shrugs off her bra (some symbolism there, perhaps?) and swims for the coast without a second thought shows Joey as a woman of strength and determination that we can’t help but fall in love with.
So what do you think? Would this opening bring you into the novel?
And please don’t forget to share any openings that may come to mind!
For more on Carl Hiassen visit his web page at http://www.carlhiaasen.com/index.shtml
Or you can read his column in the Miami Herald here.