I’ve taken entire workshops on opening lines. That’s first sentences of a story, not bar pick-up lines, although they probably have more in common than writers want to believe. Lots of book buyers open to the first page and read the opening when deciding whether to buy the book. If you’re considering buying an e-book or even a paper book online, most sites allow you to download or read a sample. Regardless of genre—literary works seem to be immune to this issue—the author’s job is to hook the reader in the first line, paragraph and page or risk losing a sale. Sad but true. First lines can be magic or death.
I came across an article on the online version of the Stylist magazine in the UK called THE BEST 100 OPENING LINES FROM BOOKS. Naturally, I had to investigate what they were. Hey, these were the best first lines of all time!! The books covered an amazing range of works from classics like Moby Dick and A Tale of Two Cities to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Bridget Jones Diary. And, yes, I read those openers one by one.
As I read, I considered which lines would have compelled me to plop down $14.99 in a bookstore to read the rest. The answer was, not many. Naturally given my long history as an avid reader and my BA in literature, I’ve read a surprising percentage of the books named for reasons other than their first lines. But were these all hooks? Not for me.
Of course, the all time classic first line in romance is from Jane Austen's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” And so a genre was born.
I think Susan Elizabeth Phillips is absolutely brilliant at first lines so I’m going to share a few I find irresistible.
If Annabelle hadn’t found a body lying under “Sherman,” she wouldn’t have been late for her appointment with the Python.— MATCH ME IF YOU CAN
It wasn’t every day a guy saw a headless beaver marching down the side of a road, not even in Dean Robillard’s larger than life world. -- NATURAL BORN CHARMER (This is my all time favorite SEP book!)
Phoebe Somerville outraged everyone by bringing a French poodle and a Hungarian lover to her father’s funeral. – IT HAD TO BE YOU
There are so many other authors and opening sentences I love, I could go on for pages, but I’d rather hear from you. Do you have any first lines you love? What about them them hooked you? Please share!!!