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The first lines always matter



Have you ever think about how your favorite stories begin?


The first lines that introduce us to the story have a complicated function: to be an invitation to readers to continue reading. Writers often find it hard to decide how to start our novels. A good way to find ideas for this is to pay attention to the first lines of our favorite books and/or writers.


There are many ways to start a novel or a story, but one thing they have in common is that the most memorable beginnings are the ones that say much more that we can notice at first sight.


Think about how J.M Barrie introduces us to his story "Peter Pan": "All children grow, except one." With a few words, not only manages to capture the attention and curiosity of the reader, but it presents the central plot of the story, and, indirectly, his character and the outcome. The same happens with the beginning of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: "It was a pleasure to burn". Four shocking words that invite the reader to continue reading.


Another iconic beginning is the one of "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen. "It is a world-renowned truth that a single man, who owns a great fortune, needs a wife." As in Peter Pan, the story begins telling the very heart of the plot and the author doesn't need large descriptions, or explanations of society, to present the conflict. But that is not all, these words manage to reflect the tone that will characterize the novel. The sarcasm and social criticism that are Austen's own are visible in just the first sentence.


Something similar can be found in Franz Kafka and his novel "La metamorfosis". "When Gregorio Samsa woke up one morning after a restless sleep, he found himself on his bed turned into a monstrous insect." Once again, the author brilliantly introduces both his protagonist and the conflict of the story, without needing great explanations or descriptions. The disturbing tone behind this introduction defines this story and will stay with the reader until the last page.


Another important characteristic of the first lines is to lay the foundations of the universe that is unfolding. In fantasy stories, which need a more detailed construction of the universe, we also find iconic beginnings that stand out for their simplicity but that say much more if they are carefully analyzed.


For example, the beginning of "The Hobbit" by J.R.R. Tolkien says: "In a hole in the ground, lived a hobbit. Not a wet hole, dirty, disgusting, with the remains of worms and the smell of mud, nor a dry hole, naked and disgusting, with nothing to sit on or eat: it was a hole-hobbit, and that means comfort. " This introduction to the fantastic world of Tolkien not only presents the main character of the story (without any other detail but the fact that it is a hobbit), but describes, through the word comfort, their way of life. Those who have read the book will know that the trip that is narrated later, will be anything but comfortable and that is why the first paragraph will serve as a point of comparison between the life of the protagonist before and during his adventure.


A similar strategy uses J.K. Rowling to start the saga "Harry Potter". "Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, from number 4 Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal and very grateful for that. They were the last people one would expect to find involved in something strange or mysterious, because they did not accept that nonsense. " Establishing in this first paragraph the personality and way of life of the secondary characters, Harry's uncles, manages to capture the attention of the reader (since it presents some unusual characters in a fantasy story) and also prepares them for the fantastic event that will modify the "normality" of the Dursleys. There is no mention of magic in its early lines, but the possibility that strange and mysterious things may happen, despite the denial of the Dursleys.


Other authors such as Philip Pullman prefer a more direct start to the fantasy universe without giving great explanations. His trilogy "The Dark Matter" begins like this: "Lyra and her daemon crossed the dining room, whose light was dimmed at times, trying to keep to one side of it, out of the field of view of the kitchen." Through the opening paragraph he introduces us to the protagonists, Lyra and his daemon. He could stop to explain what a daemon is, but he does not. It is not the time to do it and, in a certain way, encourages the reader to continue reading to discover it. It is limited to continue the narrative establishing an action ("crossed the dining room") and making it clear that they do not want to be seen, allows the reader to deduce that it is an action that is not allowed. Again the mystery is behind the text.


Another function of the first lines of a story may be to anticipate the end. Gabriel García Márquez begins "One Hundred Years of Solitude" with these words: "Many years later, in front of the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía had to remember that remote afternoon when his father took him to see the ice." He uses the same technique to start "Chronicle of an announced death": "The day they were going to kill him, Santiago Nasar got up at 5:30 in the morning to wait for the ship in which the bishop arrived." It is possible that knowing how a story will end is discouraging for some, but the author plays with the curiosity of the reader by posing an action after establishing the outcome, which invites us to continue reading until we discover if they really have to die in the end.


As you can see, a captivating beginning is, in short, the most direct entry door to attract the attention of the reader, and, in turn, lay the foundations of the universe and the tone that will characterize the narrative. Generating a good first impression through the first paragraph can be what distinguishes that story over others.


As writers we should not underestimate the influence of the first lines in the opinion of the readers and it is good to make an effort to start our narrative with impact.


What do you think? Have you notice the importance of the first lines? How your favorite stories begins?


Text by:

Flavia Menchaca

Ambassador

@ flavii_chan82

27 de Março de 2019 às 20:42 0 Denunciar Insira 1

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