Today, Kate Moretti, author of Thought I Knew You stops by Traveling With T. Kate wrote a guest post about opening lines (and I must say that I clapped my hands when I read it!) Somehow, when me and Kate were discussing the guest post and what her topic should be- she understood my general reference to “something book-ish” and made a guest post that is smart, funny, and charming!
But it’s not fair for me to talk about how much I love this guest post without showing you readers, right? So….. Here it is! Psst.. There is a giveaway (look at bottom for details!)
Perfect Beginnings by Kate Moretti
I’m a little obsessed with opening lines. Sometimes at a bookstore I’ll pick up ten or more novels, just to read the first sentences, before I even read the back copy. Stephen King has spoken about his affection for the first line and said, “An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.” I’m with him. I immediately want to think: who are these people, what have they done or what has the world done to them? As a reader, anything is possible – characters haven’t disappointed me yet, the plot hasn’t gone awry, there’s a chance for pure enchantment.
As a writer, I keep a document of these single snatches that come to me when I’m driving, or showering, or other likely places where I have little hope of being able to write it down. Most of them involve a “he” or a “she” and mean absolutely nothing – there’s no story context, even in my mind. A shocking number of them involve someone’s moment of death, which may just be a nod to my preferred genre – the thriller. My favorite, but one I haven’t been able to cultivate a backstory to is: When Nick Montana was pushed in front of the speeding C train during rush hour he was holding a lottery ticket worth two hundred thousand dollars. Well, two hundred and eleven thousand dollars to be precise. I know this because after the medics came, and later the coroner, and the crowd stayed on, huddled and whispering as though they were being careful not to wake him, I slipped the ticket into my purse, without knowing its worth, and walked away. I have no idea who these people are, but one day I might figure it out. Either way, Nick Montana is a completely bad-ass name, so I’m really almost forced to write the whole story.
When I sat down to write Thought I Knew You, I had barely a germ of an idea. The first line came to me out of nowhere, like they frequently do, and I crafted the bulk of the story around it. Greg and Cody disappeared on the same day. When I typed it out, I had no idea who Greg or Cody was, other than that one of them would be the family dog and the other would be the narrator’s husband. Where did they go? Are they together? The first line holds its magic as a writer as well as a reader. Everything is still perfect, there are no plot holes or weak characterizations or overused words and it’s all just infinitely possible.
Do other people have this love of novel beginnings? There are classic first lines of course – Call me Ishmael, It was a dark and stormy night, It was the best of times, it was the worst of times – but for me there’s a thrill in opening a novel, whether it be well-known classic, a bestseller, or an undiscovered indie, and discovering a perfectly crafted, completely gripping first sentence. And as I sat to write this blog post I realized I had quite a few memorized. They’re from a wide range of genres, with varying popularity, but they’ve stuck in my mind, and maybe they aren’t universally great first lines, just that they spoke to me personally. Most of my favorites are macabre – moments of death and murder, but then again, that’s the central plot of a lot of my favorite books (and a topic for a different blog post!). Here are my top ten, in no particular order:
- “If my father caught me he would cut my neck, so I just kept going.” – A Wolf at the Table, Augusten Burroughs
- “Death is my beat.” –The Poet, Michael Connelly
- “Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” – Rebecca, Daphne Du Maurier
- “In that place, where they tore the nightshade and blackberry patches from their roots to make room for the Medallion City Golf Course, there was once a neighborhood. It stood in the hills above the valley town of Medallion and spread all the way to the river. It is called the suburbs now, but when black people lived there it was called the Bottom.” – Sula, Toni Morrison
- “The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years – if it ever did end – began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.” – IT, Stephen King
- “I’ve thought about suicide a lot lately. I’ve never taken it to the next step, never done anything about it, but I’ve spent hours pondering the hows. I think I’d like to leap from a tall building.” – Absent Children, Juli Townsend.
- “I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ.” – Dark Places, Gillian Flynn
- “Tap dancing child abuser. That’s what the Sunday New York Times from March 8, 1993, had called Vivi.” – The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Rebecca Wells.
- “On the morning the last Lisbon daughter took her turn at suicide – it was Mary this time, and sleeping pills, like Therese – the two paramedics arrived at the house knowing exactly where the knife drawer was, and the gas oven, and the beam in the basement from which it was possible to tie a rope.” – The Virgin Suicides, Jeffry Eugenides.
- “I am ninety. Or ninety-three. One or the other.” Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen. (I concede this is not an attention grabbing first line, for me, its more that I can see the main character instantly and it says so much about his personality with these three small sentences. So I love it.)
Did you add any to your TBR? What are some of your favorite opening lines?
Kate Moretti lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, two kids, and a dog. She’s worked in the pharmaceutical industry for ten years as a scientist, and has been an avid fiction reader her entire life.
She enjoys traveling and cooking, although with two kids, a day job, and writing, she doesn’t get to do those things as much as she’d like.
Her lifelong dream is to buy an old house with a secret passageway.
Giveaway Details: Kate has generously offered 1 print copy of Thought I Knew You (signed!) and 1 e-copy! The giveaway is open to US only. Giveaway begins December 17- December 29th. Winner will be notified by email December 30th. Comment on this post (easy-peasy!) While you do not have to- if you have been enjoying the content that Traveling With T has been providing- won’t you “like” me, maybe? 😉 “Like” me at Facebook!