Posts Tagged ‘first lines’
A bringing together of beloved belles lettres, this chart diagrams 25 famous opening lines from revered works of fiction according to the dictates of the classic Reed-Kellogg system. From Cervantes to Faulkner to Pynchon, each sentence has been painstakingly curated and diagrammed by PCL’s research team, parsing classical prose by parts of speech and offering a partitioned, color-coded picto-grammatical representation of some of the most famous first words in literary history. Whether you’re a book buff, an English teacher, or a hard-line grammarian, this diagrammatical dissertation has something for the aesthete in all of us…
* Blaise Pascal
As we analyze our way to an appreciation of the classics, we might recall that it was on this date in 1952 that Ernest Hemingway completed his short novel The Old Man and the Sea. He believed it to be the best writing he had ever done. The critics agreed: the book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953, and became one of his bestselling works.
There are all sorts of theories and ideas about what constitutes a good opening line. It’s tricky thing, and tough to talk about because I don’t think conceptually while I work on a first draft — I just write. To get scientific about it is a little like trying to catch moonbeams in a jar.
But there’s one thing I’m sure about. An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this….
When I’m starting a book, I compose in bed before I go to sleep. I will lie there in the dark and think. I’ll try to write a paragraph. An opening paragraph. And over a period of weeks and months and even years, I’ll word and reword it until I’m happy with what I’ve got. If I can get that first paragraph right, I’ll know I can do the book…
– Stephen King (click here for full interview)
Find inspiration– or just enjoyment– at Kick Ass Ledes (“Your Daily Fix of Damn Good Opening Lines”).
Readers can follow KAL on Twitter… and noticing the the skew there toward long-form non-fiction and short stories, can further explore the implications of Mr. King’s advice in other, more novel-centric lists (e.g., here).
* W. Somerset Maugham
As we sharpen our pencils, we might send carefully-composed birthday greetings to Chloe Ardelia Wofford; she was born on this date in 1931. A convert to catholicism at age 12, she took the baptismal name “Anthony,” which family and friends shortened to “Toni”; then at age 27, she married George Morrison…. so it was as Toni Morrison that she published her first novel, The Bluest Eye, in 1970. She went on to write 9 more novels (including Beloved and Song of Solomon), a number of non-fiction books, a pair of plays, a host of essays, and an opera libretto– all while serving as a university professor at Howard, SUNY, Rutgers, and now Princeton. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for Beloved, the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.
They shoot the white girl first.
- Toni Morrison, (the first line of) Paradise
Best reason to go adventuring in Wonderland:
Lastly, she pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood; and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago; and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days.
– the last line of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
19 other conclusive gems at Flavorwire’s “Famous Last Words: Our 20 Favorite Final Lines in Literature.”
And for a complementary collection of such wonders as…
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.
—the opening line of Gabriel García Márquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967; trans. Gregory Rabassa)
…visit the American Book Review’s “100 Best First Lines from Novels.”
As we reach for our library cards, we might recall that it was on this date in 1910 that Alice B. Toklas moved in permanently with Gertrude Stein. The two women turned their Paris home (22 rue de Fleurus) into an artistic and literary salon, where they hosted Picasso, Matisse, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and many others– several of whom appear, with Ms. Stein herself, in the lists above.
Cecil Beaton’s photo of Stein and Toklas at home (source)