Once upon a time, bugger-all happened.
Actually, that opening line is a total lie. I’m pretty sure that a lot of times bugger-all happens… but then no one writes about it. Why would they? I mean, it’s not exactly going to be the most riveting read in the world, is it?
I like it as an opening, though. Much better than ‘On a dark and stormy night’ – so cliched. It may not be up there with ‘It was the best of times; It was the worst of times.’ But, hang on a minute, come on, Charlie, make up your mind. Is that not a tad contradictory? I hear a lot of folk decry, ‘No, it isn’t. It’s genius!’
It is not genius. Surely that’s the case for so many folk all the time. For example, my mate, Adam, and I go out to a club (yes, they really did used to be open). I get tanked up (very drunk), end up wetting my own pants and vomiting on a nice young girl’s shoes. Adam, on the other hand, stays relatively sober, chats a fine lady up and goes back to her place. Happens all the time, hence, ‘It was the best of times’ for Adam; ‘It was the worst of times’ for me. Doesn’t seem like such a blooming clever opener now, does it?
Come to think of it, I may have ripped my opening line from the Brothers Grimm. ‘Once upon a time’. Now, I’ve seen reviews where indistinct settings and time periods have been ripped apart by wonderful critics (or arses as I like to call them) but it’s okay for the gloomy boys. That’s just double standards.
How about ‘Like most people I lived for a long time with my mother and father’? Absolutely spellbinding stuff. I’ll just bet each and every one of you is busting a gut to read on. Mind you, the title of that book is a mere statement of fact – ‘Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit’. Really? It’s not even a cook book…
Classic books would hardly get a look-in these days. Respect your reader. Give them what they want… okay Mister Salinger, you’re up next. ‘If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth’. This sounds like the biggest ‘SOD OFF’ to reader expectations imaginable.
Nowadays, you hear a lot of folk criticising males for writing female characters. We just don’t understand them. They’re all stereotypes. I’ll bet these folks have never read Jane Austen… ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.’ What poppycock! Let’s get the big brush out and tar them all in the same manner.
The great American novel… Mr Fitzgerald, please come on down. ‘In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.’ Well, here’s hoping Jay Gatsby’s father was unlike mine in every way, otherwise these are the words of wisdom he’d be mulling over--
‘Never crap where you eat.’
‘Never pick your nose in public.’
‘If you think you’re gonna follow through, think twice about farting.’
Not that these pearls of wisdom aren’t good advice, but I’d not spend a lifetime rolling them around in my brain.
This one is another gem on a par with the opening line of my own text here. ‘Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.’. Absolutely riveting and well worth the billions that author now possesses.
And now for some wonderful grammar lessons. ‘You better not never tell nobody but God.’ I don’t like to be too negative, but this sentence has thrown caution to the wind in that department.
I’ll bet you’re thinking that my opening line isn’t looking quite so bad now, aren’t you? No? read on…
‘Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.’ Or, in other words, ‘Once upon a time, bugger-all happened.’ That’s a stereotypical depiction of a certain kind of male, and a woman who has nowt going on. Why, Ms Austen, you are spoiling us.
Not to be outdone by her close personal friend (I made that up), Charlotte Bronte hits us with an absolute zinger and page-turner. ‘There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.’ Classic.
So, the next time someone has a go about your opening lines, just remember that no matter how crap it may appear, you, my friend, are not alone.