Today, in the supermarket, I hit a small girl square in the face.
I didn’t, of course, but few would read this and fail to read on. It had, I surmise, a disorientating effect. It jolted you a little; it dislodged your readerly composure. The force of such a declaration buys the reader’s attention for at least a few more sentences. In some cases an opening sentence can develop a legend of its own. Consider some of the following classic examples:
It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. George Orwell, 1984
I am an invisible man. Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
A screaming comes across the sky. (Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow)
Someone must have slandered Joseph K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested. (Franz Kafka, The Trial)
Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude)
As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin. (Franz Kafka, Metamorphoses)
It was the day my grandmother exploded. (Iain Banks, The Crow Road)
And this also has been one of the dark places of the earth. (Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness)
He did not want to be the father of a small blue pyramid. (Ray Bradbury, “Tomorrow’s Child”)
Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moo cow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo. (James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man)
I think it’s possible, after some scrutiny, to generalise the nature in which these sentences discompose the reader.
1.) A simple declaration of a supernatural feat e.g. Bradbury, Kafka (Metamorphoses), Banks, Orwell, Ellison.
2.) The placing of the reader into an immediately dramatic or threatening situation. E.g. Kafka (The Trial), Pynchon, Marquez.
3.) A stylistic dissonance or unexpectedness which serves to jolt the reader into a state of hyper-alertness. E.g. Conrad, Joyce.
This is a working model: add to or discredit my thinking if you can. Tell me what your favourite opening sentences are.