Saturday, March 5, 2016

First Things First

This week’s Reaper Report notes, alas, the passing of the great Pat Conroy. Most of you will have
your favorite Conroy books, and though I loved Prince of Tides, my favorite book of his is The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes and Stories of My Life. I have bought and given away many copies of this book over the years. It’s wonderful both for the recipes and the stories. My most requested recipe from my daughter is his creamed corn, which is truly delicious.

This entry is going to be a continuation of my last, about developing a voice for whatever you are writing. I believe that voice is the most important element in writing, and without a good one, one proper to your story, no matter how high concept your book is, it will not excel.

Todays subject is first lines. Book openers. We writers fuss over them for hours and hours because they set the tone for the entire book. Note how the following first lines telegraph the style in which the rest of the novel will be written and how some of them, while not necessarily snappy, set up the plot to come. We’ll give the honor of the first first line in this collection of great first lines, to Pat Conroy. RIP, Pat.

“My wound is geography. It is also my anchorage, my port of call.” Prince of Tides.

And the others, which, mostly, were lifted from writer Tyler Miller’s blog, The Black Cat Moan  

The first four are from Elmore Leonard.

“Chris Mankowski’s last day on the job, two in the afternoon, two hours to go, he got a call to dispose of a bomb.”  — Freaky Deaky

“The night Vincent was shot he saw it coming.”  — Glitz

“One day Karen DiCilia put a few observations together and realized her husband Frank was sleeping with a real estate woman in Boca.”  — Gold Coast

“Every time they got a call from the leper hospital to pick up a body Jack Delaney would feel himself coming down with the flu or something.”  — Bandits

“It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.”  — 1984, George Orwell

“By the time he graduated from college, John Smith had forgotten all about the bad fall he took on the ice that January day in 1953.”  — The Dead Zone  Stephen King

“This is the story of a lover’s triangle, I suppose you’d say — Arnie Cunningham, Leigh Cabot, and, of course, Christine. But I want you to understand that Christine was there first. She was Arnie’s first love, and while I wouldn’t presume to say for sure (not from whatever heights of wisdom I’ve attained in my twenty-two years, anyway), I think she was his only true love. So I call what happened a tragedy.” — Christine   King

“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  King

“She was standing at the center of the subway platform, waiting for the uptown train to come in, when the man stepped up to her and punched her.”  — Kiss, Ed McBain

“Suicide bombers are easy to spot.”  — Gone Tomorrow, Lee Child

“Two hours before the accident occurred, Devlin Jamison drove over the crest of a hill on the pitted two-lane asphalt and saw, far below him, the multiple lanes of the east-west highway, the yellow octagon of the stop sign.”  — Cry Hard, Cry Fast, John D. MacDonald

“Ok, so here I am, Lee Morris, opening doors and windows to gusts of life and early death.” — Decider, Dick Francis

“Ignatius Martin Parish spent the night drunk and doing terrible things.”  — Horns, Joe Hill

“The legless man was wise enough to understand that heroes can be found in the damnedest places.”  — The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread, Don Robertson

“I turned the Chrysler onto the Florida Turnpike with Rollo Kramer’s headless body in the trunk, and all the time I’m thinking I should’ve put some plastic down.”  — Gun Monkeys, Victor Gischler

All of you out there who are working on something, go back and look at your first line and ask yourself, Is it good? Is it great?


  1. too many good ones to get them all. ""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?'"

  2. This was a really good reminder of something it would be good to be stuck on, that first line of the story.