Tag Archives: Charles Dickens

The Opening Line: How Do You Make It Memorable?

OO is for Opening Line

The Opening Line—probably the most important sentence you will write. Unlike the writers of the past, the modern writer in this fast-paced world needs to grab the reader’s attention as quickly as possible or risk losing the reader altogether.

What makes a good opening line?

Hmm…

In all the books I’ve read on the craft of writing, I don’t recall reading about the formula to writing a memorable opening line. If you know it, please do tell.

After analyzing some of my favorite opening lines, there doesn’t seem to be a  common thread that runs through each of them. They are all different. Some are long (A Tale of Two Cities) and some are surprisingly short (A Christmas Carol). What is it about these opening lines that make them so memorable?

My favorite opening lines contained at least one of the following:

• Imagery
• Contrast
• Intrigue
• Unique voice
• Compelling Mental Picture
• Sarcasm
• Shock
• Fear
• Dialogue

Imagery

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

Contrast

“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.” A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Intrigue

“Midway upon the journey of our life, I found myself within a forest dark, for the straightforward pathway had been lost.” The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

Unique Voice

“You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter.” The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

Compelling Mental Picture

“On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below.” The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

Shock

“Marley was dead, to begin with.” A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

“My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.” The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

Sarcasm

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Fear

“Once upon a midnight dreary, as I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.” The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

Dialogue

And this one comes from our very own Sarah M. Cradit:

“‘All I’m saying is, Deliverance was based on a true story.’” The Storm and the Darkness by Sarah M. Cradit

 

What do you think makes a good opening line? What is your favorite opening line?

Here is a link to more famous opening lines from Wikiquote.

To see what other A to Z participants are blogging about this month, please click here to link to their blogs.

 

Advertisement

Just a Position on Juxtaposition

JJ is for Juxtaposition

What is juxtaposition?

jux•ta•po•si•tion [juhk-stuh-puh-zish-uhn] noun 1. an act or instance of placing close together or side by side, especially for comparison or contrast.

Juxtaposition is a literary device used to create a vivid mental image by placing two dissimilar things side by side. Imagine trying to understand the concept of darkness without comparing it to light. It is much easier to grasp a concept when contrasting it with its opposite or something vastly different.

One of the most well-known uses of juxtaposition occurs in the Old Testament of the Bible:

Ecclesiastes 3
1 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7 A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

How is juxtaposition used in literature?

Here are a few examples:

In book titles

Juxtaposition in book titles sparks interest in the story. Consider the following examples:

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
Angels & Demons by Dan Brown
Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler

In Settings

• To set the tone of the story

One of the most memorable opening lines in classic literature is from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens:

“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…”

• To contrast the opening image with the final image

One way to show how much has changed over the course of the story is to contrast the final image with the opening image. The best example that comes to mind occurs in the novel Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.

The first scene shows Lennie taking long gulps of water from a deep green pool. George walks up behind him and scolds him for drinking from a questionable water source. George is obviously concerned about Lennie’s well-being.

The last scene shows George and Lennie at the same pool with Lennie drinking water from it once again. They sit and George instructs him to look out over the pool and imagine their future together. From behind him, George retrieves a gun from his pocket and shakily places the gun to Lennie’s head.

In Characters

• To create contrast between characters

This is often done between the hero and the villain. We all know of the typical villain dressed in black and the hero of course is wearing white. Consider Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. One is evil and draws power from the dark side. The other is good and reflects the light.

• To create contrast within a character

The contrast within a character creates interest. It makes them more memorable. A villain that is just plain evil is boring, but what about a serial killer who affectionately cares for his invalid mother?

Can you think of other ways to use juxtaposition in writing? Can you think of other examples of juxtaposition in book titles? In settings? In characters?

Click the A to Z sign up list to read what the other participants are blogging about.

Who Says You’re Too Old to Pursue Your Dreams?

When it comes to pursuing our dreams, many of us are plagued with doubts. What if I’m not good enough? What if they don’t like me? Do I really have what it takes to succeed? As someone who has discovered her passion later in life (I’m in my 40’s), I have another question pop in my head occasionally.

Am I too old to even try?

I know from the time I’ve spent reading other blogs and conversing with fellow bloggers that I’m not the only one who has this fear. Has opportunity passed us by? Well, I got tired of hearing that worn out excuse replay in my head and did some research to finally put it to rest. It turns out many of history’s greatest achievements were made by those who were middle-aged or older. Here are a few examples: Continue reading Who Says You’re Too Old to Pursue Your Dreams?

Blogger Quote of the Week: L. Marie

I haven’t posted one of these in a while, but I must say the following quote makes up for my transgression. The Blogger Quote of the Week comes from L.Marie. She wrote about the phrase “recalled to life” from the book, A Tale of Two Cities.  I really enjoyed this book and had a similar reaction to the phrase that Linda so eloquently writes about in her post, Recalled to Life. Here is an excerpt:

“Every day, when we open our eyes at the start of the day, we’re recalled to life. For some of us, maybe we don’t want to be recalled to the same old circumstances—the same old limited life. If you’re like me (and I hope you aren’t), you tend to focus on the negative—what others (including yourself) have told you might be “true” of your life: that you’re a failure who will never accomplish anything worthwhile. That you’ll always be broke or tired or miserable or hungry or thwarted or second-best or rejected or washed-up or ____________ (fill in the blank with whatever that little voice tells you; you know the one). Sentiments like that are as much a prison as the Bastille.

Maybe like me—like Dr. Manette—you need to be recalled to life—to the truths that bring life to you. What’s true about you?

You’ve got an imagination.
You’re one of a kind.
You’re a masterpiece.
You’ve got a second chance or a third or a fourth.
You’ve got skills.
You’ve got a story to tell.
You’re not hopeless.
You’re not defeated.

Right? Now go out and live that truth. Live like someone recalled to life. Because you are.”

Wow. I love this.