Thursday, April 27, 2006

Death Sentence

The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

This is the opening line from Stephen King's THE GUNSLINGER, the first book in a mammoth 7-volume masterpiece. It gives me chills every time I read it. I mean, with that kind of opening, how can you not read the rest of the book? I don't think you can possibly underestimate the important of a great opening line, they can set the tone, create scene and character, and yet so many authors use throwaway lines or dialogue. And I think, why?

Look at King's line. Right away, you know a few things about what this tale has in store:
1) The man in black is an evil dude.
2) There's some sort of chase going on...but it's not a race.
...the Gunslinger followed. He's not running, sprinting or chasing, he's merely following. That's effing creepy. So you know that eventually this Gunslinger is going to get his man, he's one overconfident SOB, since he knows the other guy will tire before he does. And then it's on.
3) They're crossing a vast desert, these two men. Just picture that. Two guys, one of them clad all in black, the other one wielding weapons to kill him, crossing an endless sea of sand. Really sets the tone for the epic tale to come.

So in one short sentence, we already know what the relationship is between the two men, the loneliness of their struggle, and that at its core we're witnessing a duel between Good and Evil (a King staple).

Another favorite line of mine, not an opening one mind you, is from James Ellroy's classic L.A. Confidential. How they were able to make not just a coherent a movie out of this amazingly dense and complex book, but a great movie, is beyond me. Read it and you'll see.
Anyway, here's the line:

Bud White refused to die.

Might not ring your bell in this context, but if you read the book and get to this part, you'll shiver every time just like I do.

What are some of your favorite lines (opening or otherwise) from your favorite books?

2 Comments:

Blogger JetReid LiteraryAgency said...

"Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful but men seldom realized it when caught be her charms as the Tarleton twins were."

Guess I'm a a closet romantic... but I read that when I was 12 and I've never let it go.

10:55 AM  
Blogger S. W. Vaughn said...

"If the room were any smaller, Maggie could have worn it as a dress."

First line of Found, One Wife: Finders, Keepers by Judith Arnold.

Also:

"I appear to be losing a lot of blood."

Spoken by Lord Vetenari upon being shot, in Terry Pratchett's Guards, Guards!

*waves to Ms. Janet Reid* -- hey there, literary agent extraordinaire. Thanks again for the contract advice!

Jason: I'm sure THE MARK will not disappoint -- and no worries, my lips is zipped.

2:26 PM  

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