I think there was an old television show called "What's My Line?" but I'm not sure. I'm either too old or too young to remember it. Too old if my memory is slipping; too young if I was just a toddler then.
Lines fascinate me, almost, if not more, than words. When a songwriter comes up with a great line, it usually becomes the hook in a chorus. When single folks come up with a great line, it sometimes helps them get "lucky." When I hear a great line, it goes into my little black notebook of ideas and may later appear in a story or novel.
Flipping through the notebook's pages, I found this: In response to, "How are you?" the answer line is, "I'm always good; sometimes I'm excellent!" (Ask Velma to read that to you. I'm sure she'll know exactly the right intonation!)
Some of you might be relieved if I didn't share with you the best "line" a guy ever used to get a date with me, but I'll tell you anyway. I was in my forties, had gained ten (okay, fifteen) pounds, and attended a rockin' wedding reception. This man kept talking to me, politely hittin' on me, and being overly charming. I said, "This place is full of younger, beautiful women giving you the eye. Why are you hanging here with me?"
His reply: "Women are like cars. Depends on whether a man wants to drive a Pinto or a Mercedes. You, my dear, are a Mercedes." (Yes, I did date him for several years, and if men are also like cars, he was a Jaguar.)
Since the general emphasis of SleuthSayers is writing books and short stories, let's turn our attention to what I consider the most important sentence in either: the first line.
One of my favorite books since second grade has been Huck Finn. I learned recently that Twain changed that first line three times before settling on:
"You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain't no matter."
— Mark Twain - Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Other favorites include:
"Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anyone else, these pages must show."
— Charles Dickens - David Copperfield
"If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth."
— J. D. Salinger - The Catcher in the Rye
"Through the fence, between curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting."
— William Faulkner - The Sound and the Fury
"Mother died today."
— Albert Camus (tr. Stuart Gilbert) - The Stranger
"All this happened, more or less."
— Kurt Vonnegut - Slaughterhouse-Five
"There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it."
— C. S. Lewis - The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
"He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish."
— Ernest Hemingway - The Old Man and the Sea
"Granted: I am an inmate of a mental hospital; my keeper is watching me, he never lets me out of his sight; there's a peephole in the door, and my keeper's eyes is the shade of brown that can never see through a blue-eyed type like me."
— Gunter Grass (tr. Ralph Manheim)-The Tin Drum
"Call me Ishmael."
— Herman Melville - Moby Dick
I've read that many people consider the opening line of Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens as the greatest opening line of all time.
"It was the best of times; it was the worst of times." The problem is that those twelve words are not the opening sentence of the book. The opening line goes on for about fifty words more than that last "times," which is followed by a semi-colon, not a period.
— Charles Dickens - Tale of Two Cities
My two favorite opening sentences are both short and a bit gritty.
"The guy was dead as hell."
— Mickey Spillane - Vengeance Is Mine
… and …
"Elmer Gantry was drunk."
— Sinclair Lewis - Elmer Gantry
Closer to Home
All this thought led me to take a look at my own first sentences.
A Tisket, a Tasket, a Fancy Stolen Casket - "Eager to pump up my new underwear, I dashed into my apartment just as the phone rang."
Hey Diddle, Diddle, the Corpse & the Fiddle - "The sweat trapped in the bottom of my bra was making me crazy."
Casket Case - "Melvin Dawkins floated facedown in the steamy, bubbling water of the hot tub." No underwear in the first paragraph but she does mention she's not wearing any in the second paragraph.
Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, There's a Body in the Car - "A fly sat on the old geezer's nose." What? No underwear in the first paragraph? Nope, but Callie mentions fanny-padded panties on the first page.
What about you? Do you have a favorite opening line (short story or novel) from your or another author's work? Please share it with us. Meanwhile, I've got to check with Liz to see if Callie's tendency to open with statements about underwear show any deep, underlying psychosis in her creator.
Until we meet again… take care of you!