Tuesday, May 03, 2005

32 First Sentences from Famous Stories

Posted by Hello"the unimaginable" digital art copyright 2004 by steven streight

"WARNING: DO NOT look directly into laser with remaining eye!"

"If I keep eating these curled orange frogs," I scolded myself, "I won't have any room for the chocolate anchovie chilli or the pan-fried amoeba-mice."

"When they said they had to amputate my head, but I'd be fine, since all my head stuff would be transplanted or re-actualized, in various sub-neck territory, I first was worried that being headless might disrupt or terminate future dealings with the female contingent, I mean, I was afraid I might have trouble getting dates, engaging in kissing and heavy petting, things of this nature."

Did either of those three First Sentences, to actual or hypothetical short stories, grab you?

Make you want to read more?

Did the opening text fragment make you curious as to where the narrative might go from there?

Let's look at the impact of First Sentences, and titles, of some famous short stories...

...and see which "first-sentence-and-title-combinations" are compelling, make you instantly like the narrator, make you want to keep reading, probably all the way through to the end.

Judging only by the titles and first one or two sentences...

...which of these seem to be potentially gripping, interesting, well written?

Which stories would YOU want to CONTINUE READING?

Which stories would YOU want to SKIP, not waste time on?

Post a comment to let me know your opinion.

First One or Two Sentences
of Famous Short Stories

(1.) There lived in Montmartre, on the third floor of No. 75 bis, Rue d'Orchamps, an excellant man named Dutilleul who possessed the singular gift of being able to walk through walls without experiencing any discomfort. He wore pince-nez and a little black beard, and he was a third-grade clerk in the Ministry of Registration.

(The Walker-Through-Walls, by Marcel Ayme)

(2.) It is doubtful whether the gift was innate. For my own part, I think it came to him suddenly.

(The Man Who Could Work Miracles, by H.G. Wells)

(3.) There once lived an economically disadvantaged tinker and his wife. His lack of material accomplishment is not meant to imply that all tinkers are economically marginalized, or that if they are, they deserve to be.

(Rapunzel, by James Finn Garner)

(4.) "We are two guys from the future." "Yeah, right. Now get the hell out of here!"

(Two Guys from the Future, by Terry Bisson)

(5.) When Rafiel began to wake from his designer dream he was very hungry (that was due to the eleven days he had been on intravenous feeding) and quite horny, too (tht was the last of the designer dream).

(Outnumbering the Dead, by Frederik Pohl)

(6.) Late in September I told the crew at Phoenix Publishing Company that I had had it, I was taking off, I might never be heard from again and for them not to send the cops out looking for me.

(Naming the Flowers, by Kate Wilhelm)

(7.) It had been years since I'd had the dream. So many years that I thought I'd finally outgrown it, if there is such a thing as outgrowing a recurring dream.

(Naming Names, by Pat Cadigan)

(8.) When the train gets to the camp I'm scared out of my mind, but I'm trying to act smooth, you know?

(Protection, by Maureen F. McHugh)

(9.) The Invisible Bicycle hurned beneath me in the moonlight, its transparent wheels refracting the hard white light into rainbow colors that played across the blacktop. Beneath the road's surface the accelerator tunnel ran, where the SSC--the Superconducting Synchroton Collider--traced a circle 160 kilometers in circumference underneath the Texas plains.

(Gravity's Angel, by Tom Maddox)

(10.) The moment of total darkness was about to arrive. The Warder Diriente stepped forward onto the portico of the temple, as he had done every night for the past 30 years, to perform the evening invocation.

(A Long Night's Vigil at the Temple, by Robert Silverberg)

(11.) When the security buzzer sounded, Dr. Jesse Randall was playing go against his computer. Haruo Kaneko, his roommate at Downstate Medical, had taught him the game.

(The Mountain to Mohammed, by Nancy Kress)

(12.) Once upon a sunny morning a man who sat in a breakfast nook looked up from his scrambled eggs to see a white unicorn with a gold horn quietly cropping the roses in the garden. The man went up to the bedroom where his wife was still asleep and woke her.

(The Unicorn in the Garden, by James Thurber)

(13.) When I look back on the long line of servants my mother hired during the years I lived at home, I remember clearly ten or twelve of them (we had about a hundred and sixty two, all told, but few of them were memorable).

(A Sequence of Servants, by James Thurber)

(14.) The ghost that got into our house on the night of November 17, 1915, raised such a hullabaloo of misunderstandings that I am sorry I didn't just let it keep walking, and go to bed. Its advent caused my mother to throw a shoe through a window of the house next door and ended up with my grandfather shooting a patrolman.

(The Night the Ghost Got In, by James Thurber)

(15.) Mrs. Halloran had a nephew in the priesthood, but that didn't keep her away from the bottle.

(A Priest in the Family, by Leo Kennedy)

(16.) I am not a gloomy man by nature, nor am I easily depressed. I always say that, no matter how much it looks as if the sun were never going to stop shining and no matter how long the birds carry on their seemingly incessant chatter, there is always a good sleet storm just around the corner and a sniffy head cold in store for those who will only look for it.

(The Sunday Menace, by Robert Benchley)

(17.) When Elspeth woke on the last morning, she was visited by a feeling of extraordinary simplicity.

(Fireworks for Elspeth, by Rumer Godden)

(18.) A few days ago, under the heading MAN LEAPS OUT WINDOW AS DENTIST GETS FORCEPS, The New York Times reported the unusual case of a man who leaped out a window as the dentist got the forceps.

(Dental or Mental, I Say It's Spinach, by S.J. Perelman)

(19.) Dodging in from the rain-swept street, I exchanged a smile and a glance with Miss Blank in the bar of the Three Crows.

(The Brute, by Joseph Conrad)

(20.) The little Bouilloux girl was so lovely that even we children noticed it. It is unusual for small girls to recognize beauty in one of themselves and pay homage to it.

(The Little Bouilloux Girl, by Collette)

(21.) "The marvelous thing is that it's painless," he said. "That's how you know when it starts."

(The Snows of Kilimanjaro, by Earnest Hemingway)

(22.) Father was in the army all through the war--the first war, I mean--so, up to the age of five, I never saw much of him, and what I saw did not worry me.

(My Oedipus Complex, by Frank O' Connor)

(23.) One evening along about seven o'clock I am sitting in Mindy's restaurant putting on the gefilte fish, which is a dish I am very fond of, when in comes three parties from Brooklyn wearing caps as follows: Harry the Horse, Little Isadore, and Spanish John.

(Butch Minds the Baby, by Damon Runyon)

(24.) The conversation drifted smoothly and pleasantly along from weather to crops, from crops to literature, from literature to scandal, from scandal to religion; then took a random jump, and landed on the subject of burglar alarms.

(The McWilliamses and the Burglar Alarm, by Mark Twain)

(25.) There was a woman who was beautiful, who started wtih all the advantages, yet she had no luck. She married for love, and the love turned to dust.

(The Rocking-Horse Winner, by D. H. Lawrence)

(26.) The schoolmaster was watching the two men climb toward him.

(The Guest, by Albert Camus.

(27.) The pale young man eased himself carefully into the low chair, and rolled his head to the side, so that the cool chintz comforted his cheek and temple. "Oh, dear," he said. "Oh, dear, oh, dear, oh, dear. Oh."

(You Were Perfectly Fine, by Dorothy Parker)

(28.) "My aunt will be down presently, Mr. Nuttel," said a very self-possessed young lady of fifteen; "in the meantime you must try and put up with me."

(The Open Window, by Saki [H.H. Munro])

(29.) The moment she came to the door she could smell it, not really rotten and not coming from any particular direction, but sweetish, faintly sickening, sourceless, filling the whole air the way a river's water can taste of weeds--the carrion smell of a whole country breathing out in the first warmth across hundreds of square miles.

(Carrion Spring, by Wallace Stegner)

(30.) None of them knew the color of the sky. Their eyes were fastened upon the waves that swept toward them.

(The Open Boat, by Stephen Crane)

(31.) As the atmosphere of the railway carriage thickened with tobacco smoke, Mr. Mummery became increasingly aware that his breakfast had not agreed with him.

(Suspicion, by Dorothy Sayers)

(32.) On his way to the station William remembered with a fresh pang of disappointment that he was taking nothing down to the kiddies.

(Marriage a la Mode, by Katherine Mansfield)

(32.) Nine-year-old Vanka Zhukov, who was apprenticed three months ago to the shoemaker Alyakhin, did not go to bed on Christmas Eve. He waited till the master and mistress adn the more senior apprentices had gone to the early service, and then took a bottle of ink and a pen with a rusty nib from his master's cupboard, and began to write on a crumpled sheet of paper spread out in front of him.

(Vanka, by Anton Chekhov.

YOUR TURN, Gentle Reader.

NOW...you express yourself.

Tell me, did any of these first one or two sentences of famous short stories touch you?

Make you connect on a personal, human level with the author?

In just one or two sentences, can you tell if you're going to like this...or hate it and refuse to read any further?

Visitors to your blog may pause to hurriedly scan only one or two sentences of your blog content...

...and that's usually due to the post title (headline) or a riveting image (photo, illustration, art).

Leave a comment.

Tell me your opinion.


Karen said...

I don't know why, but #13 makes me want to read more. Also, I really liked #29. I think it's because it's so descriptive and I can visualize the scene clearly. It also makes me curious.

Interesting point about blog readers not going to spend much time at your site if the first few lines of your post don't grab them. Does that mean we should spend more time on thinking of 'catchy' post titles, rather than on the content of the post? Does one negate the other?

steven edward streight said...

If you knew why #13 made you want to read more, you'd grow in self knowledge and diminish the forces of non-think.

Post titles must be catchy in one of two primary manners:

(1.) entice with strong, relevant, credible benefit (36 Ways to Increase Blog Credibility, 32 First Sentences from Famous Stories)

or conversely...

(2.) amuse (and generate curiosity) with strange and annoyingly mysterious message (6 Esoteric Powers of the New Super Bloggers, Not So FAST. Wrong LANE)

Adding numbers lends credibility, clarity, focus and authority.

People are trained to see numbered lists as authoritative, as in lists of bestsellers, most __________, best __________, etc.

Usually I want the reader to know, by post title, what the post is going to contain, the gist of it, its essence.

Then the reader can assess its potential relevance.

That helps them speed through their web chores.

Post titles can be clever if not too vague.

I'll throw in a few clever post titles, just to prove I can, and to add some spice.

"Catchy" post titles followed by garbage, stupid, poorly written posts will do you no good.

Readers may even think "false advertising" since it is "nice title" but "worthless post".

You may, however, spend more time thinking of a good post title, than the post content.

Sometimes I begin with a post title, and have no idea what I'm going to write.

Those usually turn out great, very spontaneous-informative-original.