Diana Gabaldon’s First Line in Outlander

“It wasn’t a very likely place for disappearances, at least at first glance.” – first line in Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon.

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Outlander: A Novel, by Diana Gabaldon

What place?

What is this place? Where is it? What kinds of disappearances? Are the disappearances only in the past or is there one in the offing? If so, who is going to disappear, and where are they going? At second glance, does it become obvious that it’s a “likely place for disappearances?”

The hook

That one 12-word sentence brings up many questions. In so doing, it accomplishes what a novel’s first sentence is supposed to do. The reader is compelled to keep reading in order to find the answers to those questions. It “hooks” the reader.

The tip of the iceberg

When Diana Gabaldon penned the opening sentence in Outlander, I wonder if she had a clue what an adventure she was embarking on as a writer or what an adventure she was inviting readers to take. It turned out to be the first step we took on a journey that continues today.

If you are a fan of historical fiction, time travel, or Scotland and have not read Outlander or the other books in Ms. Gabaldon’s Outlander Series, it’s not too late to start. I got sidetracked after reading Fiery Cross, so I have some catching up to do!

This is a series that you definitely should read in order because one book builds on the previous one. I have enjoyed the “Outlander” series on TV. It is excellently done; however, it doesn’t take the place of reading the novels.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. (I’m reading A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman.) If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Janet

First Line from a Novel by Flannery O’Connor

The first line of Flannery O’Connor’s 1960 novel, The Violent Bear It Away, has to be my favorite first line.  “Francis Marion Tarwater’s uncle had been dead for only half a day when the boy got too drunk to finish digging his grave and a Negro named Buford Munson, who had come to get a jug filled, had to finish it and drag the body from the breakfast table when it was still sitting and bury it in a decent and Christian way, with the sign of its Saviour at the head of the grave and enough dirt on top to keep the dogs from digging it up,” says it all.

The Violent Bear It Away book cover
Book cover of The Violent Bear It Away, by Flannery O’Connor

What do we learn from the sentence?

From that one sentence, we know that Francis Marion Tarwater was, no doubt, named for that famous South Carolina “Swamp Fox” of the American Revolution, Francis Marion. We know that Tarwater is white, because Buford Munson is described as being a Negro. We can guess that there is an illegal still involved, although Munson could have come to fill his jug with water. The sentence tells us that Tarwater’s uncle died at the breakfast table and half a day later Tarwater was too drunk to bury him. It also tells us that Tarwater’s uncle was a Christian, and that Munson puts a cross at the head of the grave when he finishes burying Tarwater’s uncle.

The opening sentence also paints a picture of the grave of Tarwater’s uncle piled high with fresh dirt in order to prevent dogs from smelling and digging up the body. From this, we can assume there was no casket, no vault, no fence around the gravesite, and no leash laws in the area.

Tarwater is described as a boy in the opening sentence. This tells us that he was under the age of 21 (the age of majority when the novel was written) and more than likely younger than that. (We learn later that he is 14 years old.) For him to be too drunk to finish digging the grave tells us that Tarwater is either celebrating his uncle’s death or distraught with grief. Either way, it is not a desirable situation.

The young Tarwater apparently felt total responsibility to bury his uncle which insinuates that there are no relatives or good friends close by. Or, perhaps Tarwater murdered his unsuspecting uncle by putting poisonous material in his food, then got scared or felt guilty, which caused him to get drunk and  attempt to hide the evidence by burying him.

Just when we think that opening sentence with all its nooks and crannies has said it all, we realize that it has led us to an incredible number of questions. Although the novel’s opening sentence is outrageously long at 88 words and complicated with only two commas allowing us to take a breath, it accomplishes what every fiction writing textbook says a novel’s opening sentence should do:  It hooks us. It draws us in. It compels us to keep reading in order to find out what is going on and to find the answers to the many questions it raises.  What more could you ask of an opening line?

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

The First Line from a Novel by Tom Rob Smith

“Since Maria had decided to die her cat would have to fend for itself.” — first sentence in Chapter One of Child 44, by Tom Rob Smith

Tom Rob Smith’s novel, Child 44, is about a serial child killer in Stalinist Russia. It is a compelling read, and I plan to read books two and three in this trilogy – The Secret Speech and Agent 6.

I knew the general premise of the story when I picked up Child 44, but the opening line of the first chapter intrigued me. The reader isn’t sure why Maria “had decided to die.” That’s what a good novel’s “hook” does. It pulls the reader in enough to make him or her read the next sentence, and the next sentence, until the reader is “hooked” and can’t stop reading.

My first thought when I read the first sentence of chapter one in Child 44 was that Maria was contemplating suicide. That was not the case. Maria (and lots of other people in her village) were starving to death. She knew the end was near.

Until my next blog post, I hope you have a good book to read. If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Janet

First line from a novel by Jenny Milchman

“The children had never been this far from home before.” ~ from Ruin Falls, by Jenny Milchman

What thoughts does this first line from Jenny Milchman’s Ruin Falls bring to your mind?

Ruin Falls, by Jenny Milchman
Ruin Falls, by Jenny Milchman

Cue from title

Indeed, the title gives a cue about the tone of the book. I don’t want to give too much away and spoil it for you, but I can say that the book involves the disappearance of two children and their mother’s desperate search for them. It is a book of suspense. Sometimes a reader can tell by the title what kind of book a novel is, but we all know that isn’t always true. “You can’t judge a book by its cover” comes to mind.

Speaking of judging a book . . .

Ruin Falls was an Indie Next Pick and a “Top Ten of 2014” selection by Suspense Magazine.

Author, Jenny Milchman

I decided to read Ruin Falls last year primarily because it fulfilled one of the 19 categories in the 2016 Mint Hill Library Reading Challenge — Read a book whose author has your initials. It was either that or read a book by James A. Michener. Time was not on my side, so I opted for Jenny Milchman. I’d read another of her books — Cover of Snow — several ears ago and liked it, so Ruin Falls was not a random choice. I will read other books she writes. I have not read her novel published in 2015 titled As Night Falls. It seems to be another suspense novel.

In addition to her writing talent, I admire Jenny Milchman for founding “Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day” in 2010.

Until my next blog post . . .

I hope you have a good book to read. If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Janet

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First Line of a Novel

Once a month I blog about the first line in a novel. I started doing that when I thought the first line was the “hook.” I’ve learned that the hook can entail the first paragraph or even the first page of a novel, but I plan to continue to blog about the first line only.

The Risen

The Risen, by Ron Rash

“From the beginning, Ligeia’s ability to appear and disappear seemed magical.” – From The Risen, by Ron Rash.

When I read that sentence for the first time, I had no way of knowing who Ligeia was or that it foreshadowed many appearances and disappearances throughout the book. The line was very clever on Mr. Rash’s part.

The Risen is a coming of age story of two brothers who grew up in Sylva, North Carolina in the Appalachian Mountains and the secret one kept from the other for decades. I don’t want to spoil the story for you, so I’ll just leave it at that. If you haven’t given this North Carolina author a try, please do so.

If you like my blog, I hope you will tell your friends and follow me on social media in addition to following Janet’s Writing Blog.

Until my next blog post in a few days, I wish you a good book to read and, if you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Janet

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First Line of a Novel – The One Man

“The barking of the dogs was closing in on them, not far behind now.” That’s the first line of chapter one of the historical thriller, The One Man, by Andrew Gross.

Setting

I’m reading The One Man now and I can hardly put it down. Set in Poland in 1944, one knows that being chased by dogs probably has something to do with the Nazis.

Prologue

The book’s prologue is in the present time but ends with a war time memory of a patient in a Veterans Administration hospital. Two men “running for their lives. . .” That prepares the reader for the first line in chapter one.

Word choice

In addition to being a great “hook” for the book, the first line in chapter one is interesting for word choice. If I had written it, I probably would have said something like, “The barking dogs were closing in on them” or even a mundane line like, “They were being chased by dogs.” (That is, if I’d known enough about the craft of writing to drop the reader into the middle of the action.)

I prefer the way Andrew Gross constructed the sentence over the way I might have written it. Mr. Gross has the sound of barking dogs closing in on the runners instead of the dogs closing in.

Am I “splitting hairs” here? Perhaps. But when I read the opening line as a person who is trying to learn the craft of writing, I find that the sounds of the approaching barking dogs is a richer way to pull me into the story. The runners haven’t necessarily seen the dogs but they are, no doubt, terrified by the sounds of the barking dogs. I found it to be an interesting way to describe what was scaring the runners. And doesn’t that sentence make you want to keep reading?

Any thoughts? Please share on social media by using the icons below.

Until my next blog post in a few days, I hope you have a good book to read and, if you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

Janet

A Novel’s First Line

Today I’m sharing the first line of a novel. That was already my plan before I read Andrea Lundgren’s “Crafting An Authentic Beginning” that I reblogged here yesterday.

As I have kept a list of the first lines from novels in my writer’s notebook, I have focused on the first line only. In light of Ms. Lundgren’s blog post, going forward I will consider how or if the first line portrays the overall tone of the book.

Our Souls at Night, by Kent Haruf

The first line of a novel I’m sharing today is from Our Souls at Night, by Kent Haruf:

“And then there was the day when Addie Moore made a call on Louis Waters.”

Is it acceptable to begin a sentence with a conjuction?

What initially caught my attention was the fact that this sentence began with a conjunction. Somewhere along the line, I was taught that was unacceptable; however, I have discovered that this is a myth that has hounded the English language for centuries. There are, apparently, no official English grammar rules against starting a sentence with a conjunction. I will try to put that myth to rest in my mind. Old habits are hard to break.

More importantly, it’s a great sentence

I turn my attention to the more important aspect of this first sentence. The sentence did what it was designed to do. It pulled me into the book. I immediately wanted to know who Addie Moore and Louis Waters were and why Addie visited Louis. The sentence piqued my interest. I was curious to read the next sentence.

When I look at the first sentence in Our Souls at Night, as compared with the overall tone of the novel, I conclude that the opening sentence is in complete agreement with the novel. It was a perfect way for the author to introduce us to Addie and Louis. I don’t want to spoil the story for you, so I will just say that Our Souls at Night is a story of love and comfort found later in life by a widow and a widower.

The opening sentence of Our Souls at Night plunges the reader into the middle of the story. The author could have filled several pages with backstory about Addie and Louis and built up to “the day when Addie Moore made a call on Louis Waters.” I don’t think that would have necessarily grabbed my attention like the way Mr. Haruf started the book.

A movie in the works?

Our Souls at Night was Kent Haruf’s final novel. I have read that it is being made into a movie with Jane Fonda as Addie and Robert Redford as Louis. Something to look forward to! I hope the movie won’t disappoint.

Until my next blog post, I hope you have a good book to read. If you are a writer, I hope you have some quality writing time.

Janet