How many fiction writers do we have here?

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Carradee
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Thu Jul 02, 2009 7:10 pm Post

matt wrote:I don't know what the intended rules were for this thread, but I am not sure that this sub-editing and nit-picking is quite in the spirit of the original intention.


If I may:

Mollys Mum wrote:people post the first lines (or first several lines) of their latest work for reader response


And reader response when you stick writing in a pack of writers = nitpicks. :D


matt wrote:Opening lines can be fun and clever, but I don't think it is anywhere near as make-or-break as implied by:

Carradee wrote:Second sentence makes me shrug and put it down.


The first page perhaps, if browsing in a bookshop, but certainly not the first two sentences.


I can tell from that second sentence that the narrator is going to bother me.

I've been a proofreader and copyeditor as a day job, matt (and SeanC). Noticing early on if I'm going to like a writing piece or not comes with the territory. I'll sometimes dislike something I initially expected to like, but I've tried making myself read past those niggling "neh"s, and I've never ended up enjoying something I was hesitant about.

Am I characteristic of all readers? Nope. Just some. :mrgreen:

What would you have preferred me do, say nothing about the line either way, even though I'd talked about everyone else's? Ooo, that would've been polite. I'm sure SeanC would've been wondering why I skipped him--did I just not see them, were they that bad, etc. See, I know how the writer's habit of puzzling out scenarios goes when left unchecked. :D
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SeanC
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Thu Jul 02, 2009 11:22 pm Post

No worries on this end, Carradee! You are fully within your rights to dislike my opening line. :)

Like Matt, I usually judge based on the first page (or at least a couple 'graphs). If anybody wants to see the rest of that first page, it can be found here:
http://browseinside.harpercollins.com/index.aspx?isbn13=9780061128691&WT.mc_id=biWidget6025146c-ad05-4669-b106-0bff1370f3d4

I post the link only in the interest of discussing openings. I am not trying to pimp my books on this forum; I'm just here to chat about writing. If posting such a link is seen as spam, please contact me and I will delete the post!

As for the opening line of my WIP, I'm not concerned about readers who can't follow compound sentences. They wouldn't like my stuff anyway. But I'm not entirely sold on the line itself. I like it, but I suspect it could be better.
-SeanC
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matt
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Fri Jul 03, 2009 12:29 am Post

Carradee wrote:If I may:

Mollys Mum wrote:people post the first lines (or first several lines) of their latest work for reader response


And reader response when you stick writing in a pack of writers = nitpicks. :D


Fair enough, I withdraw my previous comment :mrgreen:

But you are still very fast to put a book down. I have read lots of great books with bad openings.

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AmberV
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Fri Jul 03, 2009 12:49 am Post

I'm with SeanC on compounds or otherwise difficult opening sentences. Some of my favourite tales start with dry and dusty contortions. The Turn of the Screw, anyone? Stories cannot appeal universally, nor can styles. Fortunately we have millions to choose from.

Henry James wrote:The story that held us, round the fire, sufficiently breathless, but except the obvious remark that it was gruesome, as on Christmas Eve in an old house a strange tale should essentially be, I remember no comment uttered till somebody happened to note it as the only case he had met in which such a visitation had fallen on a child.


Just sayin'. :)


Not meaning to imply your opening is dry, Sean. Far from it.
.:.
Ioa Petra'ka
“Whole sight, or all the rest is desolation.” —John Fowles

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druid
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Fri Jul 03, 2009 5:06 pm Post

Here's one I've always liked:

"The thing that side-tracked me and made me so late coming to college was a somewhat unusual accident, or string of accidents. It began with a poker game, when I was a call boy in Pardee, New Mexico."

Tom Outland's Story, by Willa Cather. Originally a short story, later the middle chapter of her novel, The Professor's House.

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AmberV
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Fri Jul 03, 2009 6:33 pm Post

Further in light of long compounded first sentences, I figured I ought to "put up", so here is my first from the current WIP:

A yellow wind pushed thin clouds back into the sky revealing pockets of city dusk, and coughed the debris of an ordinary Saturday against the cusp of a Sunday, a Sunday which would be one day remembered as punch to the final, and some might say only, great jest.
.:.
Ioa Petra'ka
“Whole sight, or all the rest is desolation.” —John Fowles

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Ahab
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Fri Jul 03, 2009 7:27 pm Post

I rather fancy this'n:

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago--never mind how long precisely--having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.

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Hugh
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Fri Jul 03, 2009 9:41 pm Post

I quite fancy that'n too.

Here's another:

"it was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love."

But — scouring the shelves from Dickens to Dick, from Chandler to Child, I found it interesting how few first sentences were actually candidates for the All-Time-Great Kick-Off Hall of Fame. If you leave aside the few obvious high-scoring lines about Ishmael (of course), clocks striking thirteen, the best of/worst of times and "9st 3 (but post-Christmas), alcohol units 14 (but effectively covers 2 days as 4 hours of party was on New Year's Day...", you find quite a lot of good books with bland or even weak beginnings. Even some that I thought do launch strongly turned out not to. One I believed was a First Sentence — "Nothing much was left of her but charred smithereens" — turned out to be the Fifth.

That's not to deny that it's fun to see other people's and speculate where they might be going. But maybe it really is much more the first page that counts, as Matt says, or even "The First Five Pages"...

H
'Listen, some quiet night, when you've shirked your work that day. Do you hear
that distant, almost inaudible clicking sound? That's one of your
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Paris or London or Erie, PA.'

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Siren
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Fri Jul 03, 2009 10:31 pm Post

One of our favourite activities at Christmas is a Victorian parlour game, although we bought it packaged as a game called "Ex Libris" produced by the British Library and the Bodleian Library. The basic premise is that everyone has to write the first (or last) line of a named book, then everyone has to guess which is the original. It is riotously entertaining, although it doesn't sound as though it is going to be.

One person has a card with the real line written on it (in the original Victorian version, no doubt this would be taken from an actual book), along with some basic bibliographical and biographical information about the book and its author. That person reads out the background information, then everyone writes what they think will pass for the first line of the book. The one with the card collects all the lines, reads them out, and then people vote for the one they think is real. You get a point if someone votes for your line, or if you guess the correct line. The person holding the card gets a point if no one guesses correctly. Obviously, no one can vote for their own entry. The box of cards then passes to the next person, and it all starts over again. The winner is the one with the most points at whatever stage someone decides that they really have to stop and serve dinner, or go home, or retire for the night (according to circumstances).

The funny thing about this game is that everyone enjoys it, whether or not they are avid readers. In our family, it is quite common for children or for those who only read under duress to win. We've even played it with friends whose literary interests are limited to technical tomes and celebrity magazines, and after initial scepticism they loved it, too (perhaps the wine helped). The game might sound a bit pretentious, but is actually just silly and fun, and once you get started it is bound to make everyone laugh. It's great fun trying to guess who has written each line, and the more literarily-inclined often cause wild hilarity with their purple prose. Sometimes the "real" first lines might be completely unbelievable, or the fake lines might be stunning.

Highly recommended. I don't know if "Ex Libris" is still available, but if it is, it is well worth seeking out. First lines will never seem the same again. :)
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druid
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Sat Jul 04, 2009 1:04 am Post

Siren, hold on to your copy; it's a collector's item.
Amazon.uk is selling one for £150.
Someone else "invented" an online version:
http://www.thames2thayer.com/exlibris.html
Sounds like a lot of fun! --D

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Sat Jul 04, 2009 2:36 am Post

He sits at the second story window of a rundown duplex, overlooking the main drag of the city’s bohemian neighborhood. Night after night he sits. Year after year. He never sleeps. Ever.
I may be an Idiot, but I'm no Fool...
For Maura, 4/7/59-11/21/09... My Muse, my Heroine, my Editor, my Patron. All that I have achieved as a writer is because of her.

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nom
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Sat Jul 04, 2009 4:22 am Post

She was alone.

My current favourite of the opening line candidates for my WIP, but still uncertain of the narrative structure that beginning with it will entail (I suspect the section will work better in a middle chapter). But then, there's so much to write, and edit, it's all academic at this stage. At least it's not a compound sentence. :)
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matt
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Sat Jul 04, 2009 5:37 am Post

I guess I had better put up too, so here is mine for current WIP:

Gloria Sutherland's death was attributed to natural causes: by then there was nothing natural about her.


That's actually the first line of the first chapter, but there is an introduction and another passage that have to go in front of it, which I find a little disappointing, because I like that line and wish it could be up front.

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Mollys Mum
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Mon Jul 06, 2009 9:04 pm Post

From the sublime to the ridiculous. Here's mine at last, everyone let our your collective breaths. (Breath?) I too was a copyeditor in my previous life, so bring on the nitpicking, I can take it. :lol: (Wish I could figure out tabs, though. You'll just have to pretend the first lines are indented 5 spaces)


She knew the fence was electric when she put her hand through it.

She was careful. There were three strands, of white braided plastic, and room to slip her palm between them, towards the mare whose history she did not know. A horse she had seen on countless drives between the oncology clinic and her townhouse. Unkempt, her shoulder thick with muscle, bristling with dull fur like a dog with the mange.

Hu
Hugh
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Mon Jul 06, 2009 9:17 pm Post

Like it, Zoe, "... bristling with dull fur..." especially.

BTW, where's Greg's needle-in-a-haystack post?

H
'Listen, some quiet night, when you've shirked your work that day. Do you hear
that distant, almost inaudible clicking sound? That's one of your
competitors, working away in the night in
Paris or London or Erie, PA.'