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

A Novel’s First Line

One of the challenges a writer faces is how to “hook” readers. The opening lines of a novel cannot ensure the book’s success, but they can ensure its failure. Most readers will not read a book if the opening paragraphs don’t grab their attention. The first line of a novel is very important.

I keep a list of novels’ first lines in my writer’s notebook. The opening sentence I’m sharing with you today is from that list.

“I’m a good liar.” — Pretending to Dance, by Diane Chamberlain.

What’s the first line of a novel that you recall?

Janet