This article in The Guardian states that "if the author can't take the trouble, or hasn't got the nous, to sculpt those words from which all the rest flow, they probably haven't taken the trouble in all those other key moments of the text when the interpretative pressure is at its highest, when the duty to capture a whole fictional world in a single breath is at its most pressing. Screw up the opening, screw up the book."
Blimey, mate. Calm down. We get your drift.
Which comes first, though, the idea or the opening sentence or paragraph? Louise Doughty is currently building a novel around the line "Muscle has memory..." which was said to her by her physiotherapist and struck her as the perfect starter. I'll gloss over the time I tried to write an entire novel based on a title I dreamt up in the bath, and mention instead that I was reminded of a tip I read somewhere, for getting your short story or novel off the blocks.
Type into Google the words, "It's a well-known fact..." OR "It's a little known fact ..."
and you'll come up with some, er, interesting opening lines.
"It's a well-known fact that many people have no finger-prints..." Could be a crime story?
"It's a little-known fact that cows were domesticated in Mesopotamia..." Comedy, perhaps? Sci-Fi?
"It's a well-known fact that with enough Tea the British can do anything..." Satire? Cosy drama?
On the other hand, the same search yielded :-
"It's a well-known fact that urine is drinkable..." Er, pass.
"Its a little known fact that kids under the age 9 are made of rubber..." WHAT?
I wouldn't recommend this exercise if you've more than two brain cells, or something resembling a life, but it's a fun way to while away a minute or two while the kettle's boiling, and it might even trigger something. (An urge to stop reading this blog, probably - Ed.)
There's a list of the 100 best first lines of novels here and I even recognise some of them (alright, 2 for definite), but I was gutted that the following one was missing:-
"Now once, when Brer Rabbit was hard at work scraping the stones off his bit of ground, he heard a cry for help." Brer Rabbit's a Rascal by Enid Blyton.
Okay, so it lacks tension and emotional depth, but I liked it.
(I've got visions, now, of Woman's Weekly receiving a handful of stories next month, beginning with the line - "It's a well-known fact that many people have no fingerprints..." )