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The Opening Line of End of an Era
In January 1999, I was asked to write a few words for a forthcoming book about effective first sentences for fiction, using one of my own opening lines as an example. I picked the beginning of my 1994 novel End of an Era to talk about. Here's what I had to say:
End of an Era begins with these words:
I've always liked really short opening lines something the bookstore browser's eye takes in all at once. I think that's a much more effective grab than a paragraph-long sentence that requires the browser to consciously read in order to absorb. I'm fond of this particular opening for several reasons. First, End of an Era is a time-travel novel about dinosaurs; I knew that the cover would show a prehistoric landscape. And yet, no matter how far out the premises in my SF novels get, I always strive for a human quality and I wanted to drive home immediately that there was more to this book than just action-adventure, so I felt the juxtaposition of the cover art and that sentence would be quite effective.
I don't often write in the first person, but if you are going to do so, I figure you should take full advantage of the immediacy that voice offers right from the opening sentence (a first-person tale could start with description rather than a personal declaration, after all, but I don't think that's nearly as effective).
Finally, as you may have noticed, the sentence is in the present tense, very unusual for fiction; indeed, the whole opening scene in End of an Era is present-tense. Because the novel plays with past and future, I wanted to start out by immediately jarring the reader's time sense, and I think the tense choice accomplishes that.
My own real father hale and healthy at seventy when the book was published has said that of my dozen novels, End of an Era is the only one he hasn't read: the four words of that first sentence were too much for him to bear as written by his own son. I never wanted to upset my father, but I did want the words to have a powerful emotional impact, and many readers have told me that they do.
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