A haiku for the month. Sometimes our most significant victories are the quietest.
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?
The weather is the villain any writer can take advantage of. It’s even better that a human one. It doesn’t have to have a logical motivation for its nastiness. It can betray a hero at any time, and the author doesn’t have to devise an explanation. If the hero can survive or outwit the weather, he looks even more heroic. Here this puny human has triumphed over all the power nature itself could dish out.
Winter conditions bringer their own unique stamp to villainous weather. I am writing from my experience of living through winters in the Buckeye State. If you decided to write about winters based on your location, be sure to take advantage of any features peculiar to your area.
Treacherous driving conditions — It doesn’t have to be a blizzard to be dangerous. A storm that dumps a lot more snow than predicted can catch your protagonist off guard, challenging her nerves and skills. When my husband and I were dating, he was driving home from a date and got caught on the highway after a layer of ice coated the road. As car after car spun out around him, he realized if he kept a slow pace, 25 mph, and didn’t touch his brakes, he would make it.
That setting would be ideal for a character wrestling with some problem. The experience of driving under those difficult conditions and getting home safely makes her see that she can overcome the problem with steady persistence. In such a story the weather is both a villain and if not a friend, at least an assistant.
Snowstorms — Stranding a character in a storm can lead to revelations about himself, like the treacherous driving conditions, but how about snowstorm as a humorous villain?
A few weeks before Christmas, my family attended a party hosted by a good friend. It was so icy when we left that night, that I joked my friend might have to let people stay over if they didn’t leave soon. What if that happened?
A couple host a business Christmas party at their house in the country. Some colleagues they like, and others they cannot stand. When icy road conditions force everyone to stay the night, everyone in attendance must learn to tolerate each other. Or not, depending on what humor the author wants to use.
Snow days — This is another situation in which the weather is both villain and friend. As a parent, I love days off from school as much as my kids. That’s one less day to race around. Since I work from home, it’s not as stressful as for two parents who both work outside the home. A humorous story could be written about the juggling two parents do to get to work and take care of their kids on a snow day.
A snow day is a wonderful setting for a middle grade mystery. Because both parents work, the oldest child, a teen, is responsible for watching her siblings on a snow day. The younger brother and sister meet with friends in the neighborhood and solve a mystery by the end of the day.
What other stories have you read or would like to write using winter weather as writing inspiration?