Monday, February 3, 2014

A.D.D. and Opening Lines

So, we all have a big fat flaming case of A.D.D. If it isn't the chemicals in the air or water, or the polar vortexes (I hate that that's a term now.) it might just be this: we have more demands on us at work and more entertainment options away from work than ever before. As comedian Patton Oswald pointed out, we've become a race of Roman Emperors, declaring, "You Tube, I want to see something fall or poop! Bring it to me!"

This presents issues for authors.

The days of methodical building seem pretty much over. The days of the Russian novel that spends the first 300 pages detailing the awfulness of Russia are over. Now, we grip the reader by the face with our first sentence, or we don't grip them at all.

Working under that premise, I've decided to present some opening lines of my own and of others that I think work well in this regard. Check them out and feel free to comment.

"All this happened, more or less." Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Announcing an unreliable narrator from the get-go was a gutsy move. As a reader, it put me on edge. I analyzed everything to try and guess if I was being lied to. That (and a hilarious and poignant story) kept my attention all the way through.

"It was a pleasure to burn." Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

I love an opener that creates questions. The mind loves a puzzle, and hates a cliffhanger. Why was it a pleasure to burn? What is he burning? Why is he burning it? My attention never wanders because I'm curious right from the start.

"When I think of my wife, I think of her head." Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn

It's so easy to be jealous of Gillian Flynn's skill. All the love-hate dynamic of the marriage her novel explores is right here in the first sentence. Is he thinking of her severed head? (Is he hoping to make it severed soon, or is it sitting in his lap as he writes?) Or is it still attached? Does he want to kiss it? Or kick it in? Or both? Again, questions create curiosity.

"Mr. and Mrs. Fang called it art; their children called it mischeif." The Family Fang, Kevin Wilson

I cheated a little with the semicolon. Though Wilson's opener is technically two sentences, it's still amazing. The central debate of the book is presented right away. We learn quickly about the Fang parents' strange performance art and how they drag their children into it with little regard for their well-being, or even their desire to participate. As one of the children states later in the book, "Just because you think something is beautiful, that doesn't mean you should do it."

Here are my latest attempts to measure up:

"Like all my nervous breakdowns, this one started with a boy." (Collector)

"Jack didn't believe in flaws; a thing is either whole or broken." (Voodoo John)

"The ad for the experiment was clear: you test our product, we save your marriage." (Bottles of Sara and Ben)

"The boy is a narcoleptic kleptomaniac; this presents problems." (Narco-Klepto)

Like the others, I hope these lines will create curiosity, and also, grip you by the face until you're done reading. Then you can go Youtube the latest video of a cat falling while pooping.

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Stay tuned for news about my next published piece!

Comments welcome!
-James Russell