“I am pretty much f****ed.”
Andy Weir wins the prize for The Best Opening Line to a novel in recent memory. It’s to the point. It establishes danger. You have to read on. You can’t not.
That is what great first lines are supposed to do–grab the reader by the neck or balls or whatever vulnerable organ is at hand–and reel them in.
George Orwell got things off to a riveting start in 1984. “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
And of course, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
Of the more modern ilk, there is Bret Easton Ellis’ opening for American Psycho. “ABANDON ALL HOPE YE WHO ENTER HERE is scrawled in blood red lettering on the side of the Chemical Bank near the corner of Eleventh and First and is in print large enough to be seen from the backseat of the cab as it lurches forward in the traffic leaving Wall Street and just as Timothy Price notices the words a bus pulls up, the advertisement for Les Miserables on its side blocking his view, but Price who is with Pierce & Pierce and twenty-six doesn’t seem to care because he tells the driver he will give him five dollars to turn up the radio, ‘Be My Baby’ on WYNN, and the driver, black, not American, does so.”
And I love the screw you attitude of Chuck Palahniuk in his opening for Choke. “If you’re going to read this, don’t bother.”
The Hunger Games didn’t have a bad opening line. “When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.”
I also really like the opening to Gone Girl even though its part of the manipulative mindf*** of the novel. “When I think of my wife, I always think of the back of her head. I picture cracking her lovely skull, unspooling her brain, trying to get answers. The primal questions of a marriage: What are you thinking? How are you feeling? What have we done to each other? What will we do?”
But as much as publishers say a grabber of an opening is key to a book’s success, that’s not true. Can you guess which massive best seller begins with this gem? “I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror.”
Innocuous. Forgettable. And the opening line to Fifty Shades of Grey.
The Martian starring Matt Damon and directed by Sir Ridley Scott premieres at TIFF this weekend. Here’s hoping they haven’t messed with Andy’s awesome first line.