One of my first lessons in writing (and one of the few I remember) was to make sure I have a memorable first paragraph.
(Well, there goes that.)
I’ve never mastered the skill myself, but I’m a fan of the big entrance. I’m in awe of the writers who can pull it off. Dickins had the lead to end all leads:
“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.”
Orwell’s 1984 pulled the reader in with one sentence:
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
Even the Lord pulled it off easily: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” (the rest of the book wasn’t bad, either.)
My favorite opening, though, still belongs to Hunter S. Thompson, leading off Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:
“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive…” And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: “Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?”
I drove through Barstow a few years ago, and my whole way through the first line ran through my head like a bad song. The rest of my family had never read the book, which made my bat country jokes fall flat.
Myself, I still dream of pulling off that perfect opening paragraph, but until I get over my writer’s block I’ll settle for an opening paragraph, period…