Opening Lines

How’s this for an opening line: My first elective class has finally started, and it has me thinking about what makes for a good opening line.  As homework for a creative writing class, I am attempting to develop a story from a single opening sentence.  I have come up with a pretty good opener and the rest of the story is coming along nicely, but this assignment had me thinking throughout the week about good opening lines and why they stick with the reader or listener long after they have been given.  I have often heard it said that a good first impression goes a long way; here’s a few iconic openings from television and movies that have made a great first impression on me and which I would like to emulate in my own work.

“Space: the final frontier.”  Star Trek

I can only imagine what viewers must have been feeling the first time they saw a field of stars shooting at them from their TV screens while William Shatner intoned this famous four word phrase.  My thoughts of it are shaped a bit more by Patrick Stewart’s version from Star Trek: The Next Generation which has a few more planets from the solar system flying by, but its effect on me was just as powerful as Shatner’s probably was with my mom and dad.  The implications of this phrase run very deep with me, hinting at a greater unknown universe just begging to be explored via a cosmic Oregon Trail.  The rest of the opening narration gives in more detail the general premise of the series (the voyages of the Enterprise and her space-bound sisters in orbit), but these first four words are, I think, sufficient enough to bring to mind a whole universe of possibilities.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” Star Wars

This opener reminds me of how a typical fairy tale might start out, as viewed through the filter of a science-fiction storyteller.  Taking its cue from lines like, “Once upon a time in a faraway land,” the piece of text that pops up on the screen before the opening text crawl of the Star Wars films might seem a bit old-fashioned for a high-tech world full of laser blasters, laser swords, wise puppets, etc.  Hey, I think it sounds a bit corny, too, but it does give me comfort heading into the show.  George Lucas isn’t about to drop you into a full-fledged space battle without settling you in for the ride first.  I  imagine Princess Leia might use this line at the beginning of telling her kids about the fantastical adventures of crazy Uncle Luke.  It just seems to me like the perfect start to a rip-roaring bedtime story, for better or for worse.  Good night, sleep tight, don’t let Vader bite!

“There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man.  It is a dimension as vast as space, and as timeless as infinity.  It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge.  This is the dimension of imagination.  It is an area which we call… the Twilight Zone.”  The Twilight Zone, Season One opening narration

I couldn’t stick with just the first line here; I think the entire paragraph needs to be given to get the whole effect.  Of all of the different openings The Twilight Zone used over the course of five seasons, it is this first one which has always been my personal favorite.  When I first started watching Rod Serling’s masterpiece of a TV series on DVD, before I knew anything else about the show, I first encountered this opening monologue which Serling intones in a deep, deliberately paced voice while images of rolling fog, unearthly landscapes, and a twinkling starfield fill the screen.  This blew me away when I first saw and heard it; it instilled in me a feeling of uncertainty, but also of wanting to find out the cause of that uncertainty, not unlike the battle against fear many of the show’s various lead characters fight against.  It remains my favorite part of the show, even more so because it was only used during the first season, making it something of a unique snowflake among iconic TV moments.

I hope that in the future I will be able to come across other beginnings that are just as memorable to me as these are and that I, as a writer, can come up with openers that other people can be inspired by.  What are your favorite opening lines?   Leave them in the comments and don’t forget to identify where they’re from so I can find them, too.

Leave a Reply