I have a week off (too much time accumulated, use it or lose it) and I have the inclination to start writing a novel. I haven’t done any real writing in about 8 years (I got to the climactic scene of my last novel and I still don’t know how to end it) but I suddenly have the desire to begin again. I don’t even know the story yet, I just want an opening line.

The great classics often have beginnings that grab the reader right from the start. Take Jack London’s “To Build a Fire”, which I read when I was in the sixth grade. I still remember how it opened up:

The day broke cold and grey. Exceedingly cold and grey.

Yeah motherfucker. Your protagonist is in the Yukon and he freezes to death at the end. Cold and grey indeed! Oh, by the way, that last line was a spoiler.

Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” had a more enigmatic start:

Call me Ishmael.

As Mr. Edwards (9th grade English, Eastern High School) pointed out, that sentence gives you more questions than anything. If his name really was Ishmael he could have just said that, but instead he uses the words “call me”. Why the nickname? What does he have to hide? Why choose a nickname that, in the Old Testament, represents Abraham‘s firstborn son who was born of the servant woman when they thought that Rachel was barren? What is the psychological significance of this? Did the author get his ass kicked so much as a child (for having the name Herman) that he felt the need to invent a murderous whale just to get back at society?

I was toying with the idea of this time writing in the first person. I normally eschew that tactic as kind of gimmicky and I prefer to write in the omniscient viewpoint but the first person lends itself to some good opening lines. I was thinking about the following:

I found out I wasn’t really the person I always thought I was the day I killed Michael.

That one’s kind of cool because it grabs you and you don’t realize until like page nine that what the protagonist is referring to is the day, in the midst of a personal crisis, he stops having people call him Michael and has them refer to him thereafter as “Mike”. Yeah, I know it’s cheap but the reader doesn’t realize that until later and by then he’s (hopefully) hooked into the story. All good stories involve the main character undergoing an experience which profoundly changes them in some way anyway, this one would be further underlined by a name adjustment.

I have another prospective beginning but his one involves a whole paragraph and I don’t feel like writing it here because that would involve me doing some actual writing. It’s just an idea at this point and I’m not sure I want to start spinning the wheels just yet. It’s Friday and I’m still on vacation.

11 Responses to “Writing”

  1. How come they had you read the ungrammatical dangling participlealert Jack London in grammar school?

    “Bo, found it.�

  2. mexi says:

    I was in a small group (about four of us) who were supposedly “creative” and were rewarded with extra reading outside the classroom.

  3. write about the guy who tried to welch out on his bet at Irish pub

  4. mexi says:

    That’s a great idea! I’m going to write a book about a guy who tries to welch on his bet at the Irish Pub. Then my characters Texigogue and Guy in a UCLA Jacket track him down and go through Department of Motor Vehicle records to locate all his blood relatives. Then they murder all his relatives one by one and the victims are found with pool balls jammed in their mouths! The book culminates in a bar room cue stick melee!

  5. Phelps says:

    I still pick this as my favorite opening line.

    “The man is black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

    And then he spends appx. 11,000 pages getting back to that line.

  6. Most disapointing ending ever!!!!!!!! I waited years for that last book to come out!!!!

  7. L says:

    PHELPS… I love you. It is confirmed now and I’ve counted to 3.

    Also UNLV, that is why I didn’t read the ending. Just like the ending in life, I suspect the end can’t nearly be live up to my expectations.

  8. L says:

    – the be… cough syrup makes me loopy

  9. Vee says:

    Why go through the Dept. of Motor Vehicles to locate blood relatives when you have a contact in a background screening company with everyone’s personal information at her fingertips?

    Mexi – I have to hit you up for some reading suggestions for my 11 yr old son. He loves the books I get him (Outsiders, Where the Red Fern Grows, etc) but I am runnning out of “boy” books. He’s read a few London books I got him, but I haven’t seen To Build A Fire yet. Any other suggestions?

  10. Phelps says:

    Well, with all due respect, King did recommend that you NOT read the end-end. He gave you the ending that you wanted, and told you, “stop here.” If you decided to read on, hey, you must be one of those Tower obsessed fools too.

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