One of the basic things we’re taught in creative writing classes is the importance of a great “hook”. You know what we mean, that first sentence that will make it or break it for your readers, which will then make it or break it for you. Seriously though, it we had a penny for every time someone posts an exhaustive list of “the best opening lines in literature” we would probably be able to hire enough staff and cut our response time to a month, rather than the six we can currently offer. And yet, no one can really argue away the pull that a great first sentence can have. Read this piece for instance, written by Jeff Gundy and published in Artful Dodge 32/33:
And it didn’t snow yet, though they promised. And on the distant coast a woman arrived at Emergency with an alien sheen on her body, flecks of white and yellow floating in her blood, and she died there, and a nurse and doctor went down too. We’re still inquiring. We’re troubled.
All week I’ve felt vague and distracted, a little sore throat but that’s not it. What are these phrases that push up and then die like mushrooms? If the sidewalks didn’t fill like ditches in the rainy season, if ice and black sand didn’t grate on me so, I could be happy here. I could get something done.
If I lived on the coast, where the pale walls glowed weirdly as her body found its final, enigmatic twist. If I knew the cancer was at the bone and no God had stepped forth to save my body or my mind. If I lived in Carmel on the blazing shore or Sausalito on the shining hill and rose in winter to bird song and flowers-would the cool jade carvings of the mountain and the temple speak to me then? Would I still take any glimpse of beauty and shame as the sly work of God?
If I lived in California I’d pick oranges today, I’d groan for the lemons rotting on the ground, I’d haul the best ones down to church and find some one to need them, some woman with an odd glow who will show up unannounced and unremembered in a haze of ammonia and need, her blood flecked white and yellow as though she’d mainlined lemons and oranges, craved the great sweet juice of the western shelf, the blood and the navel, the sun going out in the ocean to drown itself again.