Because–let’s be honest about this, writer-peeps–that’s what they really are.
The opening line is the “Hey, baby,” of a story. It’s your chance to attract your reader, to flash a dazzling phrase or a quirky quip and maybe, just maybe, not spend the rest of your life alone and unread. It’s all about connection, and the stakes are high.
Pick-up lines are tricky. There are a million ways to get them wrong, from the trite to the smarmy to the completely incomprehensible. My personal favorite is, “Girl, if you were gravy, I’d sop you up with a biscuit.” I’m still not sure what that meant. And does that call for backing away slowly, or a full-out sprint?
Of one thing I am certain–if he were a book, I would have slammed him shut.
But maybe that’s not fair. Maybe that gravy-lovin’ guy was a knight in southern-fried armor. With just that surreal one-liner to go on, though, a girl can hardly be blamed for pretending to be deaf.
I admit that I’m the kind of shallow reader who judges a book by its first line, if not its cover. Some lines are just sheer magic–they suck you into their vortex, and by the time you surface for air, the book is finished and you feel a little bit like just packing it in for the Grey Havens because how could anything ever be that wonderful again? Those are the breathtaking ones–the ones that pull you into another world, a world whose landscape opens up before you from the very first line.
I’m thinking about first lines because a couple of people have wondered if my new blog photo is a stock photo. It isn’t; it’s by my very talented friend Amber at Muddy Art Photography, and it’s a picture of my hand writing out my opening lines. On the off-chance you were wondering:
- Cam was trying not to look down.
- It is as if my mother never existed.
- When it rains, the past works its way up through red clay soil in the woods and fields around Carterhaw.
- You never see us coming.
- Autumn blazed like wildfire through the trees outside the city walls.
- The limpid eye of the beast had not yet clouded in death when the hunter dismounted and crouched beside his prey.
They look funny like this, stripped of context and lined up next to each other like planets on a chart of the solar system. It’s strange and interesting to look at them this way, and instructive. I start to see them from a different perspective, a little closer, maybe, to the way a reader would encounter them–not yet knowing where they’re coming from, or where they’re headed. I can trace their orbits blindfolded, from long acquaintance, so any opportunity to step back a bit from the obsessive closeness of writing is valuable.
I thought about turning this post into a list of my favorite opening lines from books I’ve read, and then realized I’d be here all night. So what are your favorites? And what are your stories’ pick-up lines?
(If anybody wants the gravy one, you can have it, with my blessing.)