Friday, March 4, 2011

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

When I'm really in a state of writing despair, I try to think of opening sentences of first chapters. What will make the reader read the second line: What will take him to the end of the page?

My favorite is, "Marley was dead, to begin with." or, "Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much." And of course, the all-time best, "Where's Papa going with that ax?"

I was especially intrigued with an opening sentence from one of Edith Wharton's novels, "She was bad, always."

So I'm working on one for a revised chapter: "Through the dirty panes of the rain-spattered window, a monkey-like face appeared, grimacing and gawking."

Or, "The clock struck with a sad, hollow tone, as if no one in the house had ever cared what hour it was."

Or, "What, another baby on the way?"

Do they pique an interest? Or maybe they sound just like Bulwer-Lytton's most ridiculed first line, "It was a dark and stormy night." I'll have to think about it.


  1. I could hear the dead man coming up the stairs.

    I read this recently and thought it would have been a great opening. It was the last chapter of the book, though.

    One of my favorites of all time is:
    A screaming comes across the sky.

    That is from Gravity's Rainbow.

    Another is: I am an invisible man. From Ralph Ellison.

  2. I like- What, another baby on the way? I am intrigued by the voice.

    The first line may be the hardest part! Good luck.

  3. I wonder whether Madeleine L'Engle got any flack for opening "A Wrinkle in Time" (one of my favorite books) with that same, infamous line, "It was a dark and stormy night."

    One online site said she was often asked why she used that opening line, to which she replied...the phrase “a dark and stormy night” is one that is used to start lots of scary stories, the kind of stories people told around campfires when L’Engle was growing up. Those words let you know it is going to be a scary story.

    That makes sense to me, and the rest of the book is first-rate, but I still wonder what her critics thought of that opener.

  4. p.s. I see that Pippa, one of our followers, has Snoopy typing as her avatar. And we all know what his favorite opening line was!

  5. Ah, first sentences. I love first sentences. The most effective ones show you one true thing about the novel.

  6. I like the sentence about the "baby on the way," and if it were followed by a sentence describing how the main character feels about this fact, then the general would become specific - always a good thing?

  7. Gale, I'm mulling over your comment. I guess the first line might serve as the very beginning of the plot curve, or arc, introducing the character at his or her lowest point, or most that there's no where to go but up. The writer has to get the reader to ask what's going to happen next. Hence the succes of a dark and stormy night...the sun has to come up on...something.

  8. I kinda like the first option with the monkey face staring through the window. I'm curious! The question is, what's the focus of the story? The kid with the monkey face, or the new baby?