We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.
— opening sentence of Feed, M.T. Anderson
I have never read Feed, but I want to — such is the power and intrigue of its opening sentence.
Why were they going to the moon? What did they think would be fun about the moon? What had they planned to do there? And why did it completely suck?
Beginnings … first impressions … opening sentences. They are all so important.
Killing time (i.e. procrastinating — I am trying to sort out my synopsis for my novel), I was scrolling through saved Facebook posts and came across this one which got me thinking. The post was shared by a writer’s group I follow and titled 21 of the Best Opening Lines in Children’s Books.
‘Best’ is a rather subjective word. Out of the 21 first sentences chosen, I think six of them nailed it for me. A couple were pretty good. The rest? A bit ho-hum in my humble, unpublished aspiring writer’s opinion.
But, that is the nature of the written word. We can’t please and thrill everyone all of the time — and why would we want to? There is nothing more boring than a group of clones.
Just like taste in literature, differing tastes in human personality is what makes the world a more interesting place. Some people prefer outgoing, effervescent, loud personalities — others (like myself) find these same characteristics to be over-the-top, in-your-face and occasionally offensive. I prefer quiet, understated types; though you may find that boring and uninspiring.
This is not to say I don’t have friends of the former character, it just takes me a bit longer to get to know and appreciate them; and they are thinner on the ground, in the same way that the total number of Sci-Fi books I have read and enjoyed number two, whereas I have devoured every Jodi Piccoult book written. It’s a bit of a dumb analogy, but I hope you get my point.
Opening lines in life need to be like their counterparts in literature: punchy, intriguing and informative, but leaving you wanting to know more.
When I meet someone for the first time, I don’t want to know everything about them straight away, but I need to be interested enough to find out more later. Interesting people drop little snippets of information — a fact which might make me curious (used to work in the police force), or something which makes me think ‘you’re just like me’ (she is also a teacher with a child the same age as mine).
Not every ‘first meeting’ is explosive and powerful. I have friendships I have slid into over the years, getting to know the person gradually. These are the friends I made at school, or at work. The same friendships I can’t remember being without, but neither can I instantly remember how, when or where they began.
But, if I really think about it, there was something there at the start. An opening spark; maybe small, but effective all the same.
Three that come to mind after a bit of pondering:
♦ a high school peer who ‘picked me up’ after I’d been at the receiving end of a particularly nasty, ongoing episode of bullying, ‘She’s a bitch, I don’t know why you bother’
♦ a colleague who laughed with me about an experience with a child that could have been potentially demoralising
♦ the fellow student who said, ‘Keep reading that, I want to know what happens.’
The ‘opening line’ in each of these friendships was not fireworks material, but there was enough there to tell me what I needed to know, and for me to want to know more.
A good opening sentence, or positive first impression is not the be-all and end-all of outstanding literature, or a lifelong friendship — but it certainly goes a long way towards ensuring you persevere just that little bit longer.