Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Hook #2: An Analysis of a Favorite First Line

by Jacqueline Fauni

For those of you just tuning in, we’re sharing our favorite first lines of all time as we count down to the announcement of our First Page Contest winners. What are some of your favorite first lines? What exactly makes them so compelling?

*** And here’s another contest for you! Comment on any of the “Hook” posts with one of your own favorite first lines by Wednesday, September 19th, and we’ll include it in a poll on our Facebook fan page, where people can vote for their favorite out of all the first lines submitted. The line with the most votes by Monday, September 24th, wins a $10 Amazon gift certificate! ***

The next first line in our countdown is not a classic, but intriguing nonetheless:
Once upon a time there was a young psychiatrist called Hector who was not very satisfied with himself.
François Lelord’s first line in Hector and the Search for Happiness sets the playful, yet profound tone of his delightful parable. As the title suggests, Hector is the story of a psychiatrist (named Hector) who goes on an adventure around the world to find the secret to happiness. Along the way, as he travels from France to China to (an unspecified country in) Africa to the U.S., he meets many different people and learns many valuable lessons from them. Hector records his observations throughout his journey as numbered lessons in happiness, which are as remarkably insightful as they are beautifully simple, e.g.: 
"Lesson no.1: Making comparisons can spoil your happiness."
"Lesson no. 2: Happiness often comes when least expected."

In these lessons, and as he does in the book’s first line, Lelord uses minimal diction and concise phrasing to highlight the common, yet deeply philosophical sense in Hector’s observations. In doing so, Lelord makes us realize simple truths that we often overlook and would do well to be more conscious of.

From his first line, Lelord illustrates how Hector questions the worth of his profession as he works with patients who don’t necessarily suffer from any psychological disorders but are clearly unhappy, and then goes on to touch upon such topics as the economic disparities in society and the lack of access to mental healthcare for those who really need it, but can’t afford it. Pretty heavy stuff, but what’s interesting about Lelord’s approach to these issues is that he uses a lighter tone, and describes the state of society in general terms, e.g.
“Because, although everything worked better than in most of the world’s big cities, there were still some people who had only just enough money to live on, and some children who couldn’t stand school and behaved very badly, or didn’t even have parents to look after them any more.”
Lelord explains the world of his story as something that his readers are not familiar with -- only we find that we are, which creates a greater emotional impact on us. And by removing specificity from his descriptions, Lelord makes that impact universal (which might explain why Hector is an international bestseller). What is magical about the land of Lelord’s “once upon a time” is that it captures the realities of modern life on a basic human level. What is magical about Lelord’s first line is that it establishes our sense of that and of our relation to it, and ultimately compels us to immerse ourselves in Hector’s familiar world and idyllic, yet relatable quest.

No comments:

Post a Comment