There are some notable first lines in famous books.
“Call me Ishmael ...” from “Moby Dick.”
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ...” from “A Tale of Two Cities”
My personal favorite: “It was a dark and stormy night ...” from the work of Sir Edward George Earle Bulwer-Lytton and later made famous by the “Peanuts” character Snoopy.
Great stories begin with great introductions, but I wonder, does the first line of every great story have to be great? Is the first line memorable or is it that a great story makes for a memorable first line?
Probably a combination of both. Having read what I thought were some great stories, I found not all have great or even notable first sentences. If you get both, it’s a bonus.
You may have heard “you cannot judge a book by its cover.” It is true, but the first thing that draws me to a book is its cover. Or else there is a lot of money wasted on book covers.
Again, it is no indication of the quality of the story, but human nature compels me to look at the cover, read the first line and even turn to the last page to see how it ends before I make the commitment to reading the book.
When I begin that process, a number of things can happen. One, I am rewarded with a great story. Two, the story is not great, but worthy of my time just the same. And third, the story just does not interest me.
It may be a good story, even a great story. I’m just not willing to put in the time and effort. “Moby Dick” is not a book I’ve read. Neither is “A Tale of Two Cities.”
Whenever I meet new people, I find they are much like books –– some are hard to read. First impressions can be deceiving. People are often not what they seem; there is a story inside everyone and we have to dig it out.
I have thought to myself, “What makes them like that?” What is their story or history that I’m not seeing? I like the challenge of finding out. I am often rewarded for my efforts because people are very interesting and have great stories.
Not everyone has a great first sentence, first paragraph or first chapter. Not everyone has a great or interesting cover, but their story is very compelling.
In other words, “how the story starts is not as important as the finish.” Your story may have a horrible beginning with every disadvantage and still finish well as long as the end is yet to be written.
This gives me hope, because like buried treasure long undiscovered, the end of the story is worth the wait.
I love introducing a friend of mine because I can tell some of his story to help get the conversation going. It usually has to do with something both individuals have in common, but even if not, introductions help to break the ice.
I feel sometimes that I am telling people where to find treasure; when I say “this is my friend Jesus and you’re going to love His story.” He has written a book, and it has everything in it; a great first sentence and a life-changing story.
It has drama, comedy, triumph and tragedy, victory and defeat; it comes with instructions for life and death. Though it requires a commitment, if you read it, it pays dividends in life now and in the life to come.
You have to meet Him, you have to read His book, because what you discover is He has known and loved you all along and has been following your progress.
And what’s more, He likes you and you’re going to like Him, I promise. Your story, your life, for that matter, is being written in His Book. The end of your story has yet to be written and you get to choose; will it be a triumph or a tragedy?
Rev. Tim Barton is lead pastor of Wallowa Assembly of God Church in Wallowa.