Sunday, November 19, 2006

Opening Lines

Editors like to talk about how the first line of a novel can make or break a book. They advise spending a lot of time getting that first line and first paragraph right. This is sometimes known as a narrative hook. My absolute favorite opening line comes from John D. MacDonald's 1966 novel, Darker Than Amber. I was reminded of it this evening as I was moving some books around. It is:

"We were about to give up and call it a night, when somebody dropped the girl off the bridge."

MacDonald's hero Travis McGee and McGee's buddy Meyer are fishing below a highway bridge in Florida when some thugs toss a girl over the bridge into the bay. She's got a concrete block wired to her ankles but she's still alive. The next several pages are a harrowing scene where McGee goes into the night dark waters and tries to save her. It's a very suspenseful scene and what an opening line.

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