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Writer's Block: Awesome Openers

What are some gripping opening lines from films or books, and why do you think they work so well?

The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed. Stephen King, The Gunslinger, book one of The Dark Tower series.

This line sets up a distance shot like the opening screen of a good movie. You don't know who they are yet, but you do know what's going to happen. Violence hangs in the air like the heat shimmer above the desert. You know because he's a gunslinger that there's a good chance the man in black did something worth shooting him for, and that he's not going to stop till he catches up to the man in black. Events in the story make it pretty clear that first impression, that the man in black is a bad guy, is bitterly accurate. He's a seriously bad guy, and by the time he gets to him, the gunslinger isn't that much of a good guy. He's ambiguous. But you can see the conflict.

These people don't have names yet. But it tells you the conflict is going to be big and that a long difficult journey is involved. You know this novel's going to have salt sores in characters' mouths and heat sickness and mules dying out from under their riders. You know everybody's starving on the edge of madness.

Somebody scared enough to flee into a desert has reason to fear, or he's insane. The gunslinger is established as a badass that way. It says a lot about the book and a lot about the series -- that the gunslinger will go through a lot worse than deserts to get to the Dark Tower. Certain word choices give it a sonorous dignity, a Tolkeinesque air. "Fled" is one word where you'd need two to say "ran away" but it is also a more formal word. "The man in black" carries resonance and mystery -- you know his gender and his clothing and it's a descriptive. Much information in a few nouns and verbs, no adjectives there. No adjectives needed. The sentence also follows the order of events. You see the pursued first and then the pursuer, as you catch your first glimpse of the epic chase that is the plot of the first book.

It says "Here, this is what the book is about. Now read the rest to find out why."

So it's a beautifully structured first line that does the job and sticks in my mind. I had the image of it and had to go get the book to quote it verbatim, because I did not remember it accurately. But at the sight of the question, I knew I needed to post this as an example. Stephen King is one of those authors who will be known as a classic for centuries, he's just that good at the craft like Mark Twain. The Dark Tower is his masterwork, the series that ties together everything else he's written and drove him nuts for years without leaving him alone. It's worth all the work he put into it. HIs struggle to write it was epic too, and he finished the job. I love it for that.
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( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 30th, 2008 02:31 pm (UTC)
Now, this is spooky. I posted my answer, looked at Other Answers, and the one right before mine was exactly the same quote. Nothing like reading Stephen King and running into synchronicity! And his icon says "Go then, there are other worlds than these." Same source. Wow. Yeah.

Unfortunately comments aren't enabled on the entry.
Jun. 30th, 2008 08:54 pm (UTC)
Now that's downright... well, King-esque.
Jun. 30th, 2008 10:14 pm (UTC)
Isn't it? That just gets freaky. I love your new icon though. Didn't realize that was you!

I'd have the nerve but not the reflexes for the gunslinger stuff. Steady nerves, actual steady hand, reflexes of an anemic tortoise...
Jul. 1st, 2008 10:45 am (UTC)
I have 140 icons now, and I very rarely remember to switch them around :D

I don't think I'd be a very good gunslinger; my eyesight's too bad, so if my glasses were broken I'd be screwed.
Jul. 1st, 2008 08:57 am (UTC)
That is a really great opening line. And a great book, although the rest of the series gradually fell flat with me.
Jul. 1st, 2008 03:23 pm (UTC)
Not for me, but it was very frustrating waiting between volumes and the cliff hanger ending of volume three drove me nuts until I was able to get all the volumes. Now it's kind of fun, but at the time it was annoying.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )


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Robert A. Sloan, author of Raven Dance

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