Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Charlotte’s Web

I like this long post analyzing Charlotte’s Web, by PJ Parrish on Kill Zone Blog — rather a change of pace from that blog’s focus on thrillers and mysteries.

The Lessons for All Writers Woven into ‘Charlotte’s Web’


I fell in love with this book the first time I read it. I was maybe eight or nine, just around the age of the heroine Fern. But a couple years back, on the 60th anniversary of its publication, I decided to read it again.

What a revelation. It is, of course, maybe the most famous kid book ever. It won the Newbery and remains the bestselling children’s paperback even today. But what I didn’t realize is that it is a terrific story for adults. …

[I]s there a more chilling opening line in all of fiction: “Where’s father going with that ax?” Fern asked.

THE LESSON: Don’t waste time with pages of gorgeous description. Find the right moment to parachute the reader into your story. Build tension as quickly as you can.

As I say, this is a long post. It goes through the whole story point-by-point. But I enjoyed reading the post and now kind of feel like perhaps re-reading Charlotte’s Web myself.

However, though the cited line is indeed a very catchy opening, there are in fact undoubtedly more chilling first lines in fiction. Here are some contenders:

“Ironically, since the attacks, the sunsets have been glorious.”
Angelfall by Susan Ee

“I’ve confessed to everything and I’d like to be hanged. Now, if you please.”
Chime by Franny Billingsley

Anybody got another example of a first line that is especially chilling? I’m sure I’m missing plenty.

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5 Comments Charlotte’s Web

  1. Robert

    Is this chilling by itself or only by association with the novel? I’m not sure.

    The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

  2. Craig

    “The fall of God put Theron Ware into a peculiarly unenviable position, though he was hardly alone.” James Blish, The Day After Judgment. I guess in isolation that may sound more like black humor.

  3. Rachel

    Both seem chilling to me. Well, now I don’t know, I’m seeing the dark humor aspect of the first.

    I definitely think the dead channel one is chilling without regard to the novel.

  4. Pete Mack

    Ooh! What’s the accepted name for this kind of opening? I like to (mis)call it ‘mise en scene’ as a literal translation from the French, but that term only properly applies to things like the dead channel TV screen mentioned above. What a great line!

  5. Pete Mack

    Also, off topic: Something that’s been bothering me repeatedly lately is the trope of ‘that only happens in stories.’
    A) it’s an overused cliché; trite
    B) It totally knocks me out of the story, with an undesirable breaking of the forth wall. Leave that to the experts, like Monty Python.

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