A long time ago, when I first took an interest in the craft of writing, I read that the following lines of fiction were great opening lines. Opening lines to be studied and appreciated. So I took an interest in them. If you are a lover of great opening lines, here are some that are considered great:
“What’s gone with that boy, I wonder? You, TOM!”
The old lady pulled her spectacles down and looked over them about the room; then she put them up and looked out under them. She seldom or never looked THROUGH them for so small a thing as a boy; they were her state pair, the pride of her heart, and were built for “style,” not service—she could have seen through a pair of stove-lids just as well. She looked perplexed for a moment, and then said, not fiercely, but still loud enough for the furniture to hear:
“Well, I lay if I get hold of you I’ll—”
When I started writing fiction, it was important to me that my writing not suck. So having read that these opening lines of Tom Sawyer not only did not suck, but were great, I ripped off this writing that I had read was great, hoping I might piggyback on its greatness just a bit. Here is one example of me ripping it off:
The whirlwind ignored the Leghorn.
“That’s enough, I say!”
The whirlwind still ignored the Leghorn.
“Oh for the love of all that is sacred and righteous in this world, shut the holy hell up!”
The whirlwind sputtered and ran out of gas, and the chickens comprising it froze in various manifestations of panic. Their eyes were on the Leghorn. The air was thick with feathers.
This was the opening from one of my first attempts at writing fiction, a short story called “Simulated Bird Strike Number Three.” It was about a bunch of chickens who were all bent out of shape because they were about to be fired out of a canon at the cockpit of a fighter jet so that human engineers could determine whether the cockpit’s glass was strong enough to withstand a bird strike during flight. (I’d heard this was how these things used to be tested.) It seemed like a golden opportunity for humor, if told from the perspective of a bunch of apprehensive chickens.
And I kicked it off by ripping off an icon of American literature.
Though it was a funny idea for a story, it was not a good enough idea, or a good enough story, to justify ripping off an icon. But that didn’t stop me from doing it again. I ripped off Mark Twain in another story which I recently posted here on waltbox (but wrote long ago) called The Good Doctor:
“Excuse me one moment.”
“But I–,” began the patient.
The doctor pushed a button. Spoke into a speaker.
Came the voice: “Yes, doctor?”
“Grace, have we a large rag or sponge?”
A brief pause. “No, doctor. No rag or sponge.”
“Grace, begin a list. Item one: large rag or sponge.”
Now, I would guess that those two openings will never be recognized as being as good as the opening of Tom Sawyer. I don’t even know how good the opening of Tom Sawyer really is. I just know I once read that someone once said it was great, and so I assumed it really was great, and when I started writing, I copied it. A bunch of times.
You’ve got to start somewhere.
featured image: wikimedia commons