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  1. Jack Duluoz

    Jack Duluoz New Member

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    What is your favourite first sentence?

    Discussion in 'Short Stories' started by Jack Duluoz, Nov 23, 2016.

    Post your favourite first sentence, preferably from a novel, novella, or short story.

    Judgments should be made only on the sentence itself. Don't choose the first sentence of your favourite book just because the book is good. The work as a whole is irrelevant.

    I'll start:
    "We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold."
     
  2. izzybot

    izzybot Transhuman Autophage Contributor

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    I'm fond of "The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents."
     
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  3. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    "The building was on fire, and it wasn't my fault"

    ... And we later find out that he was lying :D
     
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  4. NoGoodNobu

    NoGoodNobu Contributor Contributor

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    "The regular early morning yell of horror was the sound of Arthur Dent waking up and suddenly remembering where he was."

    And:

    "There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it."
     
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2016
  5. ShannonH

    ShannonH Member Supporter

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    "The man in black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed."

    I haven't even read the book but that line has stuck with me from the moment I first heard about it.
     
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  6. Spencer1990

    Spencer1990 Contributor Contributor

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    I loved that series. It's almost a connection to my deceased father. He got me into it, and I finished it after he was gone.
     
  7. Denegroth

    Denegroth Banned

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    "riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs." James Joyce, Finnegan's Wake
     
  8. Neural

    Neural Member

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    Thanks for posting this thread. I have no first line to really contribute, but it got me to looking at the first lines of all the stories I've written. Man I'm terrible at first lines. LOL. At least I know a place I need to work on now. :)
     
  9. Scot

    Scot Senior Member

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    • It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
    The first sentence of Dickens' Tale of Two Cities. Can you imagine the confidence, indeed the courage, to write a sentence like that, and then use it to open a novel? I think it's awesome.

    • It was the day my grandmother exploded.
    The opening sentence of Iain Bank's The Crow Road. Simply one of the best hooks ever. How could you not read on?
     
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  10. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Aunt? Supporter Contributor

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    Love the Hunter Thompson, so I have to go with my second favorite.

    “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”
    -William Gibson
     
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  11. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    Examining the x-rays of the new patient, the doctor had two thoughts; either this guy is an is an iniot, or his ass has a bright idea. :p
     
  12. Robert Musil

    Robert Musil Comparativist Contributor

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    "It was a bright, cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen."

    I know it's probably uncool of me to like Orwell as much as I do, and if I really thought about it I could probably think of an opening line I like better, but this was the first one to come to mind. I think it's because I've always liked it for a very specific reason: it instantly establishes the setting of the book as somewhere that is like our world (probably most of us have experienced a bright cold day in April), but also distinctly not (clocks aren't supposed to strike thirteen). It creates a very thorough sense of the uncanny in a very short space.
     
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  13. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    @Robert Musil they strike 13 if you are on 24hr time. :p
     
  14. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Aunt? Supporter Contributor

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    God, the racket if the church bell style clocks struck 13 and up.
     
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  15. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    Even at the chime of 2300, though you get nothing at 0000. :p
     
  16. Oswiecenie

    Oswiecenie Active Member

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    "It was a dark and stormy night."

    Very evocative and poetic, truly a great opening line.
     
  17. SethLoki

    SethLoki Retired Autodidact Contributor

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    "There was a hand in the dark, and it was holding a gun."

    I can't for the life of me recall where I read that now. It did impact me though as the kind of opener that'd have me read on. Anyone know where it's from?
     
  18. izzybot

    izzybot Transhuman Autophage Contributor

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    I can't help noticing the structural similarities in a lot of the sentences people've found memorable. That's interesting. Not gonna lie, it kinda makes me want to revisit some of my own opening sentences to see if they'd do well in this format >>

    edit: Actually, now that I'm looking at it again, the first sentence of the short I was picking at earlier today has a similar structure.
    He slept in the fetal position, knees pulled in tight, hands against his mouth, and Trinity watched him sleep registering some annoyance that he'd be a bit less convenient to kill this way.
    Mine's a lot less punchy, though. Too many phrases. I think it's really the two-clause structure conjoined by that ", and" that sells it. My propensity towards long, rambly sentences isn't a great fit. Ah well.
     
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2016
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  19. Scot

    Scot Senior Member

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    That's a pretty cool observation. I've had a quick skim through my library and found the most common opening sentence is as you describe.
    Note: That does not mean most begin with a two clause sentence, just that it appears to be the most used structure.
    Like @izzybot, I'll be re-visiting some of my own work.
     
  20. NoGoodNobu

    NoGoodNobu Contributor Contributor

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    I think for me, the most well executed of those, seem to set up one depiction and then the second clause immediately turns it on his head or else redefines the first.

    The Eustace Clarence Scrubs one I gave I liked because the first sentence set up a character (that felt bland and informative) and then immediately made a judgement call on the name while being funny. Now it's recognized the name is intentionally awful and that this character is bad enough to nearly merit it.

    "The building was on fire" is an interesting and generally exciting depiction, but the "wasn't my fault" paints the scene in a whole new light. Suddenly you catch yourself thinking "what is the cause of the fire?" and understanding there is blame being laid.

    The "bright, cold day in April" seems typical enough, until "the clocks . . . striking thirteen" give a sense of the unexpected and unusual.

    It's not so much the two clause set-up, then how the second clause serves to redefine the first clause in an unexpected or more unique way.
     
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  21. izzybot

    izzybot Transhuman Autophage Contributor

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    Yeah, I definitely like the ones where the second half is unexpected (whether funny or ominous) better, and I started to just draw the comparison between them, but "The man in black ..." and "There was a hand ..." follow the same format and there must be something to them, too. Now I just wish I had a LOT more data so I could make better theories about memorable first sentences!
     
  22. Aaron Smith

    Aaron Smith Banned Contributor

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    It's the "Oh shit"-factor.

    "The man in black fled across the desert, and, oh shit, the Gunslinger followed."

    "It was a bright, cold day in April, and, oh shit, the clocks were striking thirteen."

    "There was a hand in the dark, and, oh shit, it was holding a gun."
     
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  23. izzybot

    izzybot Transhuman Autophage Contributor

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    Every sentence would be better if we interjected an "oh shit!" at just the right moment.

    In seriousness, I do think that's part of it, but for me at least - with minimal examples - "The man fled ..." doesn't feel like much of an "oh shit" moment, because I don't know who the Gunslinger is. He's obviously someone the be fled, but in that sentence what grabs me is the mystery, not surprise. Maybe it's kind of an outlier to the structure? Or there are a lot more like it, and it's part of a subset.
     
  24. EdFromNY

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Sorry, can't pick just one.

    "At the end of the night that would change everything, the widow stood on her porch and watched as the young woman was marched down her front drive and shoved into the sedan." - The Story of Beautiful Girl (Rachel Simon)

    "For some time, now, they had been suspicious of him." - Chesapeake (James A. Michener - hey, you knew I had to pick one of his).

    "It was a pleasure to burn." - Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury)

    "Marley was dead: to begin with." - A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens)

    "If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: in love, we find out who we want to be; in war, we find out who we are." - The Nightingale (Kristin Hannah)
     
  25. halisme

    halisme Contributor Contributor

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    Technically two sentences but, eh.

    In the beginning, the universe was created. This has made many people angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move. Douglass Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.
     

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