Every writer knows the importance of the first line of a book. A good one is an invitation, a party, and a present all rolled into one. Here are a few well-known openings to savour from children’s literature…
- “All children, except one, grow up.” —JM Barrie, Peter Pan
- “’Where’s Papa going with that axe?’ said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.” —EB White, Charlotte’s Web
- “There once was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” —CS Lewis, Voyage of the Dawn Treader
- “Mr and Mrs Dursley were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” —JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
Direct from the Writer’s Desk…
As I write this, I’m wading knee-deep in wadded up attempts at a stellar opening line. I’ve been toiling over a rewrite of Act One of my manuscript for over a month. I’ve churned out a dozen half-decent ones, but so far they lack that essential je ne sais quoi that makes them ring with elegance and charm.
Such as Sir Terry Pratchett’s opener for Johnny and the Dead:
“Johnny never knew for certain why he started seeing the dead.”
Or Lemony Snicket’s snarky intro to A Series of Unfortunate Events:
“If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book.”
Or my personal favourite from Dodie Smith in I Capture the Castle:
“I write this sitting in the sink.”
I haven’t read Eva Ibbotson’s The Island of Aunts, but I’ll tell you what, I’m going to hunt it down:
“Kidnapping children is never a good idea; all the same, sometimes it has to be done.”
Freaking brilliant! Gotta get me that book—fast!
Another to track down is The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by an author with the enigmatic name Avi.
“Not every thirteen-year-old girl is accused of murder, brought to trial, and found guilty.”
*Gasp! Swoon! Sigh…* No wonder it won the Newbery Medal. (Avi, it turns out, is the pen name of an Englishman with the decidedly non-enigmatic name of Edward Irving Wortis, which is decidedly reminiscent of Eustace Clarence Scrubb. ‘Avi’ clearly didn’t deserve it…)
What Sorcery Is This?
What is it that makes these opening lines so compelling, so downright irresistible? The magic lies in a carefully poured potion of quirkiness, curiosity arousal, and captivating voice. The really good ones double as signposts to genre and a compelling introduction to a key character.
To pack all of that into one line is a superhuman feat. Elegance only looks simple; it is always hard-wrought. Unless you’re Audrey Hepburn.
Looks like it’s back to the drawing board I go. Hi-ho, hi-ho…
Share the Love!
Do you have a favourite kidlit opening line? Share it in the comments. I appreciate all the inspiration I can get!
Peter Pan, Public Domain