According to a blog post I read here at Brainsnorts the most important part about opening a novel is the first four sentences. So I decided to go to my bookshelf and pick up four novels at random and check it out, to see if there’s anything the first few sentences have in common in each book. These were my selections:
Standing Stones – The Best stories of John Metcalf
“Single Gents Only” (a short story)
After David had again wrested the heavy suitcase from his father’s obstinately polite grip and after he’d bought the ticket and assured his mother he wouldn’t lose it, the three of them stood in the echoing booking hall of the railway station. His mother was wearing a hat that looked like a pink felt Christmas pudding.
David knew that they appeared to others as obvious characters from a church-basement play. His father was trying to project affability or benevolence by moving his head in an almost imperceptible nodding motion while gazing with seeming approval at a Bovril advertisement.
This seems to me like a promising story. There is movement in it in the form of the fact that these people are going somewhere. The fact that the son takes the suitcase from his father tells me that he’s an adult. I want to know where they’re going. The description is good enough that I can imagine the scene easily.
The Marks of Cain by Tom Knox
Simon Quinn was listening to a young man describe how he’d sliced off his own thumb.
“And that,” said the man, “was the beginning of the end. I mean, cutting off your thumb, with a knife, that’s not nothing, is it? That’s serious shit. Cutting your own thumb off. Fucked my bowling.”
Okay, that was more than four sentences, but they were short ones. Shoot me. This opening is interesting. It doesn’t have much in the area of description, but how much description do we need? We can easily imagine the blood involved. Who is the man to Simon and why is he listening to such a horrific story? I want to know more.
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
It wasn’t a very likely place for disappearances, at least at first glance. Mrs. Baird’s was like a thousand other Highland bed-and-breakfast establishments in 1945; clean and quiet, with fading floral wallpaper, gleaming floors, and a coin-operated hot-water geyser in the lavatory. Mrs. Baird herself was squat and easygoing, and made no objection to Frank lining her tiny rose-sprigged parlor with the dozens of books and paper with which he always traveled.
I met Mrs. Baird in the front hall on my way out.
This opens very nicely indeed. The description is lush and from it we gather that Mrs. Baird is not going to be a central character, as we don’t get her first name from the narrator. Best of all, the very first sentence tells us that something mysterious will happen! Again, I want to read more!
Fifty Shades Freed by E.L. James
I stare up through gaps in the sea-grass parasol at the bluest of skies, summer blue, Mediterranean blue, with a contented sigh. Christian is beside me, stretched out on a sun lounge. My husband – my hot, beautiful husband, shirtless and in cut-off jeans – is reading a book predicting the collapse of the Western banking system. By all accounts, it’s a page-turner.
Here we have two shades of blue and a good-looking man reading a boring book.
So. What do three of these openings have in common? Amazing descriptiveness, movement, action and/or gore and some element which makes us want to know more. What’s going to happen? Who are these people? Why are they; 1. in a train station; 2. cutting off their own thumbs; 3. staying in a place where someone is going to disappear?
And number 4? It tells us what not to do. By all accounts, it’s a page-turner. 😉
Thank you again to Brainsnorts for the idea for this post!