Tuesday, January 31, 2006


I was just thinking about some of my favorite opening lines in novels, and one of the first that comes to mind is Vladimir Nobokov's Lolita:

"Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo-lee-ta."

It's poetic, don't you think? It's got rhythm, alliteration, sensuality, a certain playfulness... before you know who she is, or who he is, you want to be her, or him. Which is what, I think, makes it a great start. Today, think about some of your own favorite openings. Figure out what it is that draws you in and makes you want to read on. Then try to use those qualities in a start of your own.


  1. "Had I known my mother was being given electro-convulsive therapy while I was dressing for school on eight consecutive Monday mornings, I do not think I could have buttoned my blouses or tied my shoes or located my homework. I see myself fumbling wiht the snap on my skirt, trying to connect the sides, turning around in a circle like a cat chasing its tail. I was twelve, deemed too young to be told what was happening to her and in fact too innocent to surmise it." Kaye Gibbons, Sights Unseen

  2. Ooh, I like! What about in poems? Any first lines you recall off the top of your head? First one that comes to mind for me is Mary Oliver's "Wild Geese" -- You do not have to be good. Then, Raymond Carver's "The Poem I Didn't Write" -- Here is the poem I was going to write earlier. And Louise Gluck's "Elms" -- All day I tried to distinguish need from desire.

  3. Gosh - I have such a huge collection of favorite poems - first one that comes to mind is from Pablo Neruda ... the first line of "Guilty":

    "I declare myself guilty of not having made, with these hands they gave me,
    a broom.
    Why didn't I make a broom?

    Why did they give me hands?"

    When I think of it though, the most profound lines in poems(to me) are often the last ones. I suppose it depends on how you approach the reader - grab their attention and make them look ... or entice them with a beautiful picture of words whose meaning comes at the end of the path.

  4. On a different note - I like your point made here with Nabokov's first line - the ability for words to be palpable ... to create a physical sensation, an embodiment of emotion ... simply with your choice of words.

    Now that's my kind of writing.


Your thoughts?