Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Worst Opening Lines?

I thought I’d drop by the American Book Review’s list of 100 Best First Lines from Novels and see if I agree with their choices. Here’s a sample—and how I might rewrite that first line to use in my own mystery series…

1. “Call me Ishmael.” - Herman Melville, Moby-Dick.

Yeah, the name Ishmael just doesn’t work for me today. I’d change it to “Call me Justin” or maybe “Give a shout-out to L’il Wayne.”

2. “A screaming comes across the sky.” - Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow.

Come on. A scream can’t come across the sky. A bird maybe. Or a rainbow. How about “A pterodactyl screamed across the primordial ooze that would soon be known as sky.” Now that’s an opening line!

3. “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.: - Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Big mistake. The author gives away the ending in the first line! That’s just not the way to write a book. Marquez should probably read a few Nancy Drew mysteries before attempting to write another book.

4. “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.” - Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

Sounds like a romance novel to me. If you want to write this stuff, you need to use words like biceps, not “loins.” And “Lolita” sounds like a hooker’s name. Try Kimberly or Khloe.

5. “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” - George Orwell, 1984

Okay, you want your novel to ring of verisimilitude, then don’t start a book with a clock that strikes thirteen. That just isn’t plausible. Get an editor, Orwell.

6. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” - Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Vague, vague, vague. Be specific when writing your story, and avoid contradicting yourself right off the bat. Try “It was a dark and stormy night… ” and see where that leads.

7. “You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter.” - Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Obviously this guy needs to review Strunk and White before writing a book or whatnot. This is simply unreadable.

8. “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” - J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye.

What a put-off! If the author doesn’t even want to write about all that crap, then why should I bother to read it? Hey, we all had lousy childhoods. Get over yourself and write something uplifting, like “Heaven is for Real” or “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.”

9. “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” - Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway.

If I wanted to read a book about flowers, I’d buy a gardening book. Start your book off with a bang, like “Mrs. Dalloway, an escaped mental patient who’d murdered her gardener that morning, decided to bury him under the roses because he’d make good mulch.” See how that line grabs the reader in a way that “buying flowers” just doesn’t?

10. “All this happened, more or less.” - Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five.

Last but not least—well, maybe least—you just don’t tell the reader that the story you’re about to reveal may or may not have happened. I mean, what’s the point? If it happened, then write it down for us to read. If it didn’t, then go buy flowers or something.

Are there any first lines that don’t work for you? (You know I’m kidding, right?)



Blogger Nina said...

Brilliant. And very brave. ;)

December 1, 2011 at 2:42 AM  

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