Tag Archives: John Steinbeck

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?


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


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


“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


“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


“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


“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


“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


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.



Book Review: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

of mice and menOf Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Back Cover Blurb: They are an unlikely pair: George is “small and quick and dark of face”; Lennie, a man of tremendous size, has the mind of a young child. Yet they have formed a “family,” clinging together in the face of loneliness and alienation.

Laborers in California’s dusty vegetable fields, they hustle work when they can, living a hand-to-mouth existence. For George and Lennie have a plan: to own an acre of land and a shack they can call their own. When they land jobs on a ranch in the Salinas Valley, the fulfillment of their dream seems to be within their grasp. But even George cannot guard Lennie from the provocations of a flirtatious woman, nor predict the consequences of Lennie’s unswerving obedience to the things George taught him.

Goodreads Description: Of Mice and Men takes us into the lives of George and Lennie, two farm workers set out to find their way to a new life. In true Steinbeck form, this short novel explores both loyalty and the transient nature of mankind.

I hadn’t read this book since high school. I won’t say exactly how long ago that was, but it’s been a while. I read it again in April 2013, armed with new knowledge of writing rules, to see if I could understand what makes this book a classic.

What writing rules came to mind during my second read of this book?

 Don’t phoneticize regional or cultural dialects. And yet, I can’t imagine reading this without the phonetic dialogue. “We’re going to live off of the fat of the land, George,” doesn’t have the same effect as: “We’re gonna live offa the fatta the lan’, George.” It not only shows that Lennie is mentally challenged, but I can even hear the innocence, in his voice.

I thought the dialogue was brilliant. There was so much lying under the surface of what was spoken. Candy, the elderly, crippled handyman on the farm where Lennie and George work had this to say of his aging, crippled, sheep herding dog:

I ought to of shot that dog myself, George. I shouldn’t ought to of let no stranger shoot my dog.

After my second read, I still agree with its ranking as a classic. What makes it so? A classic is defined as something that retains its worth over time, and where literature is concerned, a classic addresses a theme of timeless quality. The themes of friendship, loneliness, and the pursuit of a dream are universal and will resonate with readers.

We all dream of our own little slice of heaven on earth, and whether that is a few acres of land or a little reading nook matters not, as long as it’s a place where the harsh realities of a cruel world cannot reach.

This is a heart-wrenching story of an unlikely friendship between a pair of migrant farm workers. George and Lennie are physical and intellectual opposites, but incredibly loyal to each other.  Lennie is a contradiction beginning with his last name: Small. Physically, he is anything but small, but mentally he is limited. He has the mind of a young child, and like a young child he has an overabundance of innocence and loyalty. George is the brains of the duo, and although he is much smaller in stature he is the protector. He makes it his mission to buy a farm where the two of them can live, independent of the outside world and unexposed to its merciless nature.

The title of the book is derived from the poem To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough written by Robert Burns in 1786. It’s an apology to the mouse for destroying her home. In relation to Steinbeck’s book, two stanzas of the poem stand out in particular.

I’m truly sorry man’s dominion,
Has broken nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An’ fellow-mortal!

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane [you aren’t alone]
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft a-gley, [often go awry]
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promised joy.

Although George and Lennie are unlikely companions, opposites in almost every aspect, they share this dream of owning their own land. It is the possibility of achieving that dream that bonds them together, but even the best laid plans often go awry.

 4 of 5 stars