Wednesday, September 21, 2016

What Makes a Sentence Great.

and here is a link to Prof. Jenny Davidson's piece on that subject. I am a great fan of her blog called Light Reading and I would read any book she recommended because she reads across all genres. A reader who can see the beauty in every kind of writing.

So give me a great sentence.Of course, in crime fiction, a first sentence would certainly be this one.

"When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon." James Crumley  The Last Good Kiss

or

"Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write." Judgment in Stone  Ruth Rendell

27 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Oh, that first sentence from A Judgement in Stone is, without a doubt, one of the finest first sentences in crime fiction, Patti.

George said...

I always liked Elmore Leonard's first line in Freaky Deaky: “Chris Mankowski’s last day on the job, two in the afternoon, two hours to go, he got a call to dispose of a bomb.”

Charles Gramlich said...

I love a good sentence. I especially like them if there's a little bit of poetry in them. I'll give you my favorite sentence from among those I've written. "She had the lips that Satan dreamed of in his long fall to hell."

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

The Crumley and Rendell lines are classics.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

The Crumley and Rendell lines are classics.

Richard Robinson said...

"There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husband's necks."

- opening of "Red Wind" by Raymond Chandler

Pick one, or pick them all. Strung together they build power. Nobody could write like Raymond Chandler.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed looking at her blog--really like that she reads all over the place. I bookmarked the site to visit again soon for some book recommendations (like I need more!).

--Deb

pattinase (abbott) said...

Sometimes she seems to read two books in an afternoon!

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

I remember Lou Grant quoting that passage to Mary on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

I remember Lou Grant quoting that passage to Mary on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Max Allan Collins said...

I've never liked the Crumley sentence. I see it cited all the time, so I'm probably wrong. To me, it's way overloaded and self-conscious, and too cute by half. I don't like any writing where I can see the wheels turning.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I can see your point, but I guess it works for me because it puts me in a place with a character. Or maybe years of repetition has made it resonate more than it should. Rendell's is the more evocative. And Chandler's is tough to beat.

Max Allan Collins said...

Chandler's is beautiful, but Elmore Leonard wouldn't have liked it because it's about weather (Leonard was great but his tips for writers are b.s.).

Try this:

"Nobody ever walked across the bridge, not on a night like this. The rain was misty enough to be almost fog-like, a cold gray curtain that separated me from the pale ovals of white that were faces locked behind the steamed-up windows of the cars that hissed by. Even the brilliance that was Manhattan by night was reduced to a few sleep, yellow lights off in the distance."

Weather again. Sorry, Mr. Leonard.

Or:

"All I saw was the dame standing there in the glare of the headlights waving her arms like a huge puppet and the curse I spit out filled the car and my own ears. I wrenched the wheel over, felt the rear end start to slide, brought it out with a splash of power and almost ran up the side of the cliff as the car fishtailed."

Note the first sentence's lack of commas.

Or: "The guy was dead as hell."

Or: "They found me in the gutter."

You'll not be surprised that I mention three Mickey Spillane openings. (ONE LONELY NIGHT, KISS ME, DEADLY, VENGEANCE IS MINE!, THE GIRL HUNTERS).

Max Allan Collins said...

Actually, that's four Spillane openings. Math is not my strong suit.

So what the hell -- let's make it five.

"It was one of those nights when the sky came down and wrapped itself around the world. The rain clawed at the windows of the bar like an angry cat and tried to sneak in every time some drunk lurched in the door. The place reeked of stale beer and soggy men with enough cheap perfume thrown in to make you sick."

More weather! THE BIG KILL.

Fred Zackel said...

I've been in that bar in Sonoma. Its real name was "He's not here," which was a gas whenever the phone rang. Yeah, it was rickety. Just for the hell of it: "On 10 November 1941, on a luminous morning out in the Japanese-occupied South Pacific, when the air was so pure that even the rusty oil tankers in the harbor were bathed by glorious golden light, Jack Sullivan awoke, knowing he had to flee now, while he still had the chance. As for the women of the castle, well, maybe they could be a distraction or diversion, but he wasn't taking them with him. They would slow him down."

pattinase (abbott) said...

Clearly I need to read more Spillane!

Yvette said...

So many to choose from, Patti.

Here's one:

'It was as black in the closet as old blood. They had shoved me in and locked the door.'

Alan Bradley, THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE

pattinase (abbott) said...

That's pretty dark all right!

Max Allan Collins said...

As much as I like short, punchy first sentences, here is one of my very favorites:

“Later that summer, when Mrs. Penmark looked back and remembered, when she was caught up in despair so deep that she knew there was no way out, no solution whatever for the circumstances that encompassed her, it seemed to her that June seventh, the day of the fern Grammar School picnic, was the last time had she known contentment or felt peace.”

William March, THE BAD SEED

pattinase (abbott) said...

I only remember the movie, which scared me half to death as a kid. Should read the book!

Max Allan Collins said...

It's a beautifully written book. March is a fantastic writer, unfortunately largely forgotten, although THE BAD SEED and his war novel COMPANY K endure.

Mathew Paust said...

"The guy was dead as hell" was my intro to Spillane at about 9 or 10 (Maybe even younger). I'd plucked Vengeance is Mine from my dad's little paperback bookcase in the living room, read the first sentence and couldn't stop reading. When my dad saw me with it, he laughed. Wasn't like him to say That's my boy, but I know now he was thinking it.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I will look for it. Perhaps not having Patty McCormick play the part will make me less afraid! Thanks.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Found it for $6. Thanks.

neer said...

Dear Patti

I love this opening line: "In the beginning, sometimes I left messages in the street." —David Markson, Wittgenstein's Mistress (1988).

And here's my contribution for FFB: 3 vintage mysteries


http://inkquilletc.blogspot.in/2016/09/forgotten-books-three-vintage-mysteries.html

Thanks.

Barry Ergang said...

The opening lines from Spare Parts by Rick Hanson: "Never disembowel yourself with a claw hammer and never speak to Margot before noon. These were the rules I lived by. And I would happily break the former as a means to avoid breaking the latter."

It wasn't an opening, but for me the quintessence of Mickey Spillane is these lines from a scene in--I think it was--The Big Kill: "I kicked him and he rolled over and lay there bubbling. So I kicked him again and he stopped bubbling."

pattinase (abbott) said...

Where has this guy (Spillane) been all my life!
The Hanson line is brilliant.