I finally got around to starting my new novel today. I wrote the first sentence, which goes like this:
I was standing in the snack-food aisle of the 7-11 when I saw her.
Pretty good, huh?
Let’s compare it to first lines of the top 20th century English-language novels, according to these guys.
Here’s Ulysses, which came in first:
Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.
That’s fine, although it doesn’t stand by itself. In second place is The Great Gatsby.
In my younger and more vulnerable days my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
Again it doesn’t stand by itself; you need to read on to find out what the advice was. Next is A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:
Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo . . .
Well, first sentences just don’t get any better that.
Let’s try number 4, Lolita, skipping the hilarious foreword:
Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.
OK, that one’s great, too. The whole first paragraph is incomparable.
Fifth place is Brave New World:
A squat gray building of only thirty-four stories.
Good but abrupt. Like Lolita, missing a verb, and you need to read the entire (short) paragraph to get the point.
Anyway, I’ve been put in my place. And now I want to re-read some novels. Which I’d better not do, or I’ll never write the remaining ten thousand sentences.
It was a dark and stormy night…
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… Rich, I am surprised you didn’t mention Dickens. (You being a Dickens expert.)
19th century. Not on the list.