Half of My Face Is Numb

Half of my face is numb.

Wouldn’t that be a great opening sentence for a story? Well, some story besides the real one. The real one is rather mundane and involves me, a dentist’s chair and about an hour’s worth of dental work. But what if that wasn’t the tale?


Why, yes, yes I AM sleep deprived today. How kind of you to ask. I’ve reached the state where I begin to doubt the spelling of  simple words like the. Maybe Half of my face is numb would be the lamest story opener ever.

I stayed up all night Saturday night watching over a sick husband and Sunday didn’t hold much catch-up time for sleep. Today my brain is mush. I’m typing in Cat (a language that resembles the result of a cat walking across a computer keyboard) and my judgment of the quality of opening lines is suspect. So if I post again later, and suggest that Add toilet parpy to the grocely tist would also make a good opening line, feel free to ignore me.

Just for grins, and because when I’m very tired I tend to think punchy thoughts and do punchy things, I went looking for examples of the best opening lines for novels.

American Book Review has a list of 100. The books are classics, and I’m not saying they aren’t good, but of all the opening lines of all the books to choose from, these are the best opening lines? Really?

Call me Ishmael. Whoop. Call me bored.

They don’t all have that affect on me. Some of my favorite opening lines are there, too. Which just goes to show that what appeals to one reader, won’t necessarily ring any chimes for another.

Not on the list, my all time favorite from childhood: E. B. White’s opener for Charlotte’s Web:

“Where’s Papa going with that axe?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.

Yet, Bulwer-Lytton’s It was a dark and stormy night… made the cut? I don’t get it.

I like an opening line that makes me ask questions, charms me, or thrusts me right into the thick of things. How about you? What does it take for an opening line to pull you into a story?


6 comments on “Half of My Face Is Numb

  1. Whenever people cite the Moby Dick line as being a great opener, I always think – “Wait, this is supposed to be good? Dude, you get a name. Whoo-hoo. Yawn.” I mean, no questions!

    I like opening lines that make me question what’s going on, or that introduce a character in a way that makes it impossible for me to close the book. I’m a character reader, and a character writer, and if books start with a setting, it’s very likely that I won’t like it. I need to be pulled in soon, with people.

    Although, there are probably a bazillion examples of exceptions to this, for me, but… how about we pretend they don’t exist? Ahem.

    Interesting post, and an interesting thing to think about. Opening lines are definitely one of the hardest parts of writing, at least for me.

    • I know what you mean. I’m always a bit flummoxed by the “great opening lines” listed for some of the books. I’m with you, give me a character to follow around, then tell me where we are. Unless the setting is super unconventional, I’d rather know whose head I’m in before I start browsing the scenery.

  2. Isn’t that what “Call me Ishmael” does? It tells you immediately whose head we’re in and whose story we’re being told. Conversely, the narrator tells us to call him Ishmael, but it does not mean that is his name. He could be anyone and everyone. (Ooo. Fairy tale connotations.) That gives the line a sense of mystery. Why wouldn’t he tell us his real name? Why conceal his identity? Let’s read further to find out.

    That said, I never could get through Moby Dick, even when it was required reading. It’s on the short list of books I never could finish. Granted, I was a young undergraduate when it presented to me to read. I might have to try again one day, when it’s on my schedule and not someone else’s.

  3. I think it comes back to what I said about different openers appealing to different people. Sure that one gives me a character, but I just don’t care. It leaves me flat. If I don’t care whether Ishmael is an alias or not, the line doesn’t grab me. I can’t get through Moby Dick either. Maybe I will give it another go when I go on my next let’s-read-a-classic kick. It’s also possible that I will just poke myself in the eye instead. They both generate the same type of “Wow, why’d I do that?” headache.

  4. I’ve read so many classics the last few years, I’m looking forward to my next marathon reading good ol’ escapist literature. Not slush. Pulp. Escapist. Candy.

    I’ve had as much slush as I’ve had classics.

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