Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Crushin' On Another Opening

Today's Tuesday and I love Tuesdays at the bookstore. Today David Baldacci's The Whole Truth came out.

I picked it up, read the first line, and then put it down.

I'm afraid I had me one of those little temper tantrums we writers sometimes have when something is so good you want to stomp your feet because you didn't think of it and you didn't write it.

After a minute of muttering damn under my breath and making a circle around another table, I started to get that Oh COOL! feeling.

You know, that feeling where you totally start crushing on a book?

image The book, as far as I can tell, both starts and centers around one idea. Definitely high concept. In fact, his first line is the whole book. (Take that with some salt; I haven't read the whole book, yet.)

That first line?

"Dick, I need a war."

Oh, GAWD. Isn't that perfect? Doesn't that contain such true elements, or such elements that feel true? That one line is not only a whole novel, but a line that resonates with us, in light of Bush and our current war.

It's only a few lines later when Baldacci throws in this gem of a line:

"I am dead. I was murdered."

We get to follow the development of that line for two more fascinating pages.

On the fourth page, we come to the end of the first chapter, and Baldacci plants a PERFECT TWIST (I don't want to ruin the experience for you.) that ensures that you will buy this book, you will read this book. The twist literally catapults you into the rest of the novel.

As if the first line didn't.

There's something to ponder. His first line is enough, the second line was plenty, and the twist was just ... way beyond.

Here's an excerpt, but it falls a little flat for me because it skips the one paragraph prologue. That prologue is indispensable with its first line, "Dick, I need a war."

I constantly tell my students, once they finish memorizing and learning a piece, that they've barely begun. Particularly those who want to do competitions. You really have to have all the pieces in place. You have to have the perfect notes, the perfect rhythm, the perfect expression and control and then ... that's just the beginning.

I believe that in art, there is a level you can get to where you're guaranteed success.

Well, that's my faith, my religion, and I'm sticking to it.

And that's not to say I believe one can't have success before reaching that level (dear God, I hope so). In fact, I believe 90% do. It just takes more luck,  more being in the right place at the right time.

Maybe we just reach success on the way to that level, if you're lucky..

At least, I hope so.

I also all art is the pursuit of unattainable perfection.

Have you read any killer openings lately that made you crush on the book immediately? Do you have a favorite opening? Are you a first line junkie like me, LOL?

2 bonus scribbles:

Edie 4/23/2008 08:31:00 AM  

You sent me to Amazon. I was sure that beginning dialogue was George W talking to Cheney. lol

This is from a book I recently read, An Ice Cold Grave by Charlain Harris: The eastern seaboard is crammed with dead people.

Doesn't that give you a great visual? Wouldn't you have to read on?

And, yes, I'm a first sentence junkie. I was in Waldenbooks at Liz Kreger's launch party, and another WisRWA member and I were walking around the store, grabbing books and reading first lines to each other.

Therese 4/24/2008 08:10:00 AM  

I admire fabulous first lines--and Baldacci's is a good one!

Hmmm, I think you're right about guaranteed success at a certain level. Getting there, that's the struggle!

Baldacci, Grisham, Evanovich, Steel, etc. all figured out how to write stories that pretty much always satisfy their market. So I guess We Who Aspire should, er, take a page from their books. :)