Tag Archives: Call Me Ishmael

The Pressure of Opening Lines.

Recently, during a weekly on-line author chat with the publisher and editors of The Wild Rose Press, the topic up for discussion was how to hook a reader from the very first line/page of your book. It’s important to establish this hook because the reader spends on average 3 seconds deciding whether or not to buy the book. If you’ve only got 3 seconds – or less (Egads!) – you need something that’s got WOW FACTOR all over it – be it a great opening line or paragraph. You must engage the reader and compel them by doing so to purchase the book. I know for myself I have picked books up at the bookstore, read the back blurb and been intrigued enough to read the first few lines. Many times I have not purchased the book because the hype in the back didn’t translate to the story on the page. The hook was more a jab ( heehee) and didn’t land well with me.

Can you tell I watched Rocky last night? Sheesh!

Anyway…this got me to thinking: what are some of the most memorable lines in books?

Google and Wikipedia are quick, fun tools that have lists compiled for every conceivable thing. So I typed into a search, Best Opening Lines in Books and was virtually assaulted (get it?!) with book lines.

Here are some I recognized:

  • “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”—Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina 
  • “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
  • Call me Ishmael – Herman Melville, Moby-Dick 1851
  • It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen – George Orwell, 1984 ( 1949)
  • Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself. – Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway ( 1925)
  • It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York. – Sylvia Plath, the Bell Jar ( 1963)
  • In the town, there were two mutes and they were always together, – Carson McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter ( 1940)
  • As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous verminous bug. – Franz Kafka, Metamorphosis ( 1915)

Everyone of these opening sentences immediately draws the reader into the story by giving them something to think about and a question or two to ask.

In the case of Moby-Dick, Call me Ishmael are three of the most recognized words in literature. Who is Ishmael? Why are we to call him that – does he really have another name but just wants to use Ishmael? Who is he talking to? These natural queries make you want to get answers to satisfy your curiosity. And the way to satisfy that curiosity is to…read the book!

In the 1984 line…. the clocks were striking thirteen… the reader immediately knows something is off because clocks DON’T ( as a rule) strike thirteen. Why are they doing so in this story? And what is the significance of them striking thirteen times? Is something going to happen? Or did it already and the thirteen is the announcement of it? Inquiring minds want to know.

Thinking back on the first lines I’ve written, I know in my heart some of them haven’t been filled with the wow factor – something I will work on arduously in 2015. With the plethora of books to choose from on-line, in bookstores and the library, a writer has to stake their claim on the reader’s attention IMMEDIATELY. No small task, but a worthwhile endeavor. And the payoff is a memorable book ( and a sale!)

Here’s the first line of my new release THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME, available right now!!


Leave a comment

Filed under Characters, Contemporary Romance, Literary characters, Romance, Romance Books