My theme this month is beginnings, all kinds of beginnings related to writers, readers, and books. So I’m sharing some of my favorite opening lines and why I like them.
“Ghosts? Mercy, yes–I can tell you a thing or three about ghosts. As sure as my name’s Josh McBroom a haunt came lurking about our wonderful once-acre farm.”
This is the first McBroom book I read as a child, and I loved the voice of the narrator. I didn’t know it then, but unique character voices are what pull me into a story.
“Walking up and down the platform alongside the train in the Pennsylvania Station, having wiped the sweat from my brow, I lit a cigarette with the feeling that after it had calmed my nerves a little I would be prepared to submit bids for a contract to move the Pyramid of Cheops from Egypt to the top of the Empire Stat Building with my bare hands, in a swimming-suit; after what I had just gone through.”
This novel introduced me to the genius detective Nero Wolfe and his extremely engaging assistant and bodyguard Archie Goodwin. Archie narrates the stories. Many of the mysteries, usually the novellas, are great whodunits, but I keep coming back because it’s so much fun to sit with Archie and let him spin his tale.
“To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman.”
With that sentence, Sir Arthur created a tale that most Sherlock fans can’t get enough of. Because Irene Adler only appeared in this single story, her fascinating character, and Holmes’s reaction to her, has inspired writers for years.
“The sun was dying, and its blood spattered the sky as it crept into a sepulcher behind the hills. The keening winds sent the dry, fallen leaves scurrying towards the west, as though hastening them to the funeral of the sun.”
One of the best openings of any short story I’ve read and perfect for a tale of Halloween.
“It is along toward four o’clock in the morning, and I am sitting in Mindy’s restaurant on Broadway with Ambrose Hammer, the newspaper scribe, enjoying a sturgeon sandwich, which is wonderful brain food, and listening to Ambrose tell me what is wrong with the world, and I am somewhat discouraged by what he tells me for Ambrose is such a guy as is always very pessimistic about everything.”
I discovered the short stories of Damon Runyon when I was seventeen. Again, it was the voice that caught my attention. The nameless narrator and all the other characters speak in a style invented by Mr. Runyon to sound like the way New Yorkers talked in the 1920’s and ’30’s. The characters use present tense, without contractions, and slang like “Roscoe” for gun, “gendarmes” for police, and “more than somewhat” for an excessive amount. Also the gangsters, showgirls, gamblers, and crooks go by their nicknames, like Dave the Dude, Regret, Nicely-Nicely, and Asleep.
What are some of your favorite opening lines?