Graham Greene begins his novel The End of the Affair (1951) with these words: A story has no beginning or end; arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead. As writers we choose such moments for our readers, and when we choose, we choose wisely. A great beginning can be compared to a funnel cloud that dips down unexpectedly and sucks readers into its vortex, like these examples from “100 Best First Lines from Novels.” (The American Book Review)
A screaming comes across the sky. —Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow (1973)
It was the day my grandmother exploded. —Iain M. Banks, The Crow Road (1992)
I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. —Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle (1948)
“Take my camel, dear,” said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass. —Rose Macaulay, The Towers of Trebizond (1956)
“You better not never tell nobody but God.” —Alice Walker, The Color Purple (1982)
Of course, great endings are essential, too. A great ending leaves readers with a strong image or something to ponder. Here are several from the “100 Best Last Lines from Novels.” (The American Book Review)
I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath, and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth. –Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights (1847)
He waited for someone to tell him who to be next. –Brian Evenson, The Open Curtain (2006)
The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which. –George Orwell, Animal Farm (1945)
For now she knew what Shalimar knew: If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it. –Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon (1977)
It’s old light, and there’s not much of it. But it’s enough to see by. –Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye (1988)
What memorable beginnings and endings have you found in literature? How can you improve the beginnings and endings in your writing?
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