By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
The cliché words, "It was a dark and stormy night," come from the opening sentence of the novel Paul Clifford by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton. And when you read the full sentence it comes from, you get a better idea of why it has come to be the quintessential example of a bad opening: "It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness." So, it's the kind of first line that says to the reader, "Stop now," so much so that it inspired a yearly contest for worst opening lines, "The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest," and if you ever have a few minutes to spare, it has produced some hilarious winners and honorable mentions.
In trial, you're also telling a story, and you also need an opening line. In oral argument or in front of a jury, those critical first impressions are formed quickly. A recent article draws the connection between trials and literature. The article is by Cathren Page, Associate Professor of Law at Barry University in Florida, and to draw a contrast to the Bulwer-Lytton style beginnings, it is entitled, "Not So Very Bad Beginnings: What Fiction Can Teach Lawyers About Beginning a Persuasive Legal Narrative Before a Court." Specifically, Page argues that the introductions are critical in both settings in framing the story and setting expectations. Looking at opening lines from the novels Mists of Avelon, Catcher in the Rye, Peter Pan, and Middlesex, she uses them to analyze and critique opening lines from the death penalty case Brumfield v. Cain, the marriage equality case of Obergefell v. Hodges, as well as the criminal trials of Martha Stewart and Michael Jackson's doctor, Conrad Murray.