Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Someone told me once that there are three parts of a book: the beginning, the end, and everything in between.

Trouble is, you can't get to parts two and three without a really excellent part one. Truly, a story or poem or book is nothing without a great start.

We may think "once upon a time," and all stories do start there, but of course it's not what we write. And clearly the days of “It was a dark and stormy night” are long gone in a society that craves action and lots of it. So as writers, we’ve really got to get in there and get moving FAST. Which, for me, usually involves razing the Front Porch: gotta clear out all that backstory and provide the reader with a wide-open front door.

Here are a few of my favorite beginnings:

All children, except one, grow up. Peter Pan - J. M. Barrie

In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines. Madeline - Ludwig Bemelmans

The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another his mother called him "WILD THING!" and Max said "I'LL EAT YOU UP!" so he was sent to bed without eating anything. Where the Wild Things Are - Maurice Sendak

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, "and what is the use of a book," thought Alice "without pictures or conversation?" Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll

"Where's Papa going with that ax?" said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast. Charlotte's Web - E.B. White

When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett

"Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents," grumbled Jo, lying on the rug. Little Women - Louisa May Alcott

For many days we had been tempest-tossed. The Swiss Family Robinson - Johann Wyss

The first place that I can well remember was a large pleasant meadow with a pond of clear water in it. Black Beauty - Anna Sewell

Once, in a house on Egypt Street, there lived a rabbit who was made almost entirely of china. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane - Kate DiCamillo

A long time ago, when all the grandfathers and grandmothers of today were little boys and little girls or very small babies, or perhaps not even born, Pa and Ma and Mary and Laura and Baby Carrie left their little house in the Big Woods of Wisconsin. Little House on the Prairie - Laura Ingalls Wilder

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 threes steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov

It was a pleasure to burn. Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury

Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were. Gone With the Wind - Margaret Mitchell

Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventh-first birthday with a part of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton. The Fellowship of the Ring - J.R.R. Tolkien

And because Amy asked, here’s the beginning of my very own The Witches of Gee’s Bend:

“Mama always said every quilt tells a story.”

If you’ve got favorites, I’d sure love to hear ‘em!


  1. "When your mama was the geek, my dreamlets," Papa would say, "she made nipping off of noggins such a crystal mystery that the hens themselves yearned toward her, waltzing around her, hypnotized with longing." 'Spread your lips, sweet Lil,' they'd cluck 'and show us your choppers!". Geek Love - Katherine Dunn

    A very strange and wonderful story ... not for everyone, but good for stretching your ideas of family ... love and self-esteem.

    Anna G.

  2. Oh, Peter Pan and Charlotte's Web!! I loved reading these.

    I can't remember the openings of my favorite books right now, but boy, am I trying :).

    The opening scene of Alan Gurganus's "Plays Well With Others" is one of my faves, but I won't share it due to its complete obscenity (and hilarious)...that is an amazing book!

    Thanks for this post.

  3. Oh man! this is pretty cool I am going to come back and read this later.

  4. I'm laughing. I just picked up A Wrinkle in Time because it is one of my all time favorite books. Guess what the opening line is?

    "It was a dark and stormy night."

    Love this post. And, I love your opening.

    Sarah Frances


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