Monday, June 21, 2010

Opening Lines

Opening lines are a perennial source of fascination to anyone who writes stories or enjoys thinking carefully about the way they’re told. A story may begin with a relatively short declaration:
Mari Shimada was the girl in my class who burned her skin with me.
or with a long, comparatively complex description:
Only the sun starting to rise and the statue of a horse rearing up as if trying to throw off an invisible rider; the sunrise, and the horse in its frozen excitement: Sky had been lying in bed, drifting in-and-almost-out of sleep, when, as if beckoned by a tempting fragment of music or conversation, she had begun to feel lucky, as the statue of the horse that had no rider appeared again and smiled down from its elevated position and she smiled breathlessly up at it.
Or it might start, as in this example, with an opening thought that is actually two sentences but feels like one:
There are two ways, he thought. Two ways for everything.
If the story is nonfiction, a personal essay, it might try to immediately transport the reader into a relived moment right alongside the author-narrator:
That Saturday—as fresh and blue-skied a spring morning as one could possibly want for a stroll up Fifth Avenue—I walked happily, block after block, a Jersey boy on a pilgrimage to the Upper East Side.
In any case, the opening should intrigue, should pique the reader’s curiosity. If the four examples above pique yours (and I hope they do), I invite you to consider why, and then find out where they are leading. Each tale can be found in its entirety in the second issue of the Folio Club. (Authors quoted in this post: Romy Ashby, Robert Pranzatelli, Mark Saba.)

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