The first line of a novel can be a curtain sliding apart, or a door that is thrown open. It can be a whispered call to attention, or it can be trumpets and cymbals. First lines aim to draw you in, or in some cases to drag you in to the world of the story.
Here is a random selection of brilliant first lines:
When it began, it began as an opera would begin, in a palace, at a ball, in an encounter with a stranger who, you discover, has your fate in his hands.”
Alexander Chee, The Queen of the Night
At twenty-four the ambassador’s daughter slept badly through the warm, unsurprising nights.
Salman Rushdie, Shalimar the Clown
I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces.
Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sympathizer
This story—like most stories in the history of the world—begins far away from Des Moines, Iowa.
Elizabeth McCracken, Niagara Falls All Over Again
One afternoon on a weekend in March, Dewi Ayu rose from her grave after being dead for twenty-one years. Eka Kurniawan, Beauty is a Wound
The scientific community published a first line of sorts today:
Gravitational waves have been detected for the first time.
On September of 2015 a signal was registered at both sites of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (also known as LIGO). The characteristics suggest that it resulted from the collision of two massive black holes about 1.2 billion years ago. You can hear the gravitational wave, as a rising chirp, at ‘The World According To Sound.’
Actually the announcement was more of a second line, because the true first line was given to us in 1915 as part of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity.
A hundred years for confirmation may seem a very long time, but at extremes of physical scale far from human dimensions—elementary particles and universes—verification is no easy matter because observation represents a daunting challenge.
Dennis Overbye at The New York Times provides a wonderfully clear explanation of gravitational waves and of LIGO in his article and accompanying video.
This wonderful finding isn’t the final word. Another approach to studying gravitational waves is already underway in space using the LISA Pathfinder satellite.
And in case you wondered, gravitational waves are not the same as gravity waves. Gravitational waves had never been observed before while gravity waves include wind-induced waves on the ocean or a lake or atmospheric waves in the wake of mountain ranges.
We’re rather lucky to be surrounded by wonderful first, and second, lines. Sometimes it’s up to us to provide the following ones.