I recently discussed the idea of powerful opening lines (and last lines) with a writer friend of mine.
Some are so ubiquitous, that they merely need to be said and everyone knows what the books is. Ahem, “Call me Ishmael.”
Or, double ahem, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
Many writers talk about sweating over that first or last line before they’ll even begin their manuscript. Whatever your style, I think you’ll appreciate today’s post. A collection of famous first lines.
Oh, and to keep things interesting, because I haven’t had a contest in a while, I’ve decided to host a “First Line Contest.” How to enter? Enter the first line of a novel or short story you’re working on in the comments below. I’ll post a poll for voting next weekend! The person with the most votes takes first place. First Place in the poll: A critique of your first 15 pages! Second place, my choice: A critique of your first 5 pages.
FAMOUS FIRST LINES:
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking 13.” -1984 - George Orwell
“It was a pleasure to burn.” Fahrenheit 451 –Ray Bradbury.
“All children, except one, grow up.” Peter Pan –J. M. Barrie
“The year that Buttercup was born, the most beautiful woman in the world was a French scullery maid named Annette.” The Princess Bride –William Goldman
“Marley was dead, to begin with.” A Christmas Carol –Charles Dickens
“Willie McCoy had been a jerk before he died.” Guilty Pleasures – Laurell K. Hamilton
“Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.” - Gone with the Wind –Margaret Thatcher
“Call me Ishmael.” – Moby-Dick – Herman Melville
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” – Pride and Prejudice –Jane Austen
“I’d been waiting for the vampire for years when he walked into the bar.” -Dead Until Dark – Charlaine Harris
“The night before he went to London, Richard Mayhew was not enjoying himself.” -Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman
“Kaye took another drag on her cigarette and dropped it into her mother’s beer bottle.” –Tithe –Holly Black
“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.” – Lolita— Vladimir Nabokov.
“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” – Anna Karenina –Leo Tolstoy
“It has been sixty-four years since the president and the Consortium identified love as a disease, and forty-three since the scientists perfected a cure.” –Delirium—Lauren Oliver
“In these dungeons the darkness was complete, but Katsa had a map in her mind.” –Graceling –Kristen Cashore
“Please tell me that’s not going to be part of my birthday dinner this evening.” –A Great and Terrible Beauty –Libba Bray
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” – A Tale of Two Cities –Charles Dickens
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again.” –Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
“The alchemist picked up a book that someone in the caravan had brought.” –The Alchemist –Paulo Coehlo
“When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.” –The Fellowship of the Ring –J.R.R. Tolkein
“I am an invisible man.” – Invisible Man –Ralph Ellison
“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. – The Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (1951)
“We should start back,” Gared urged as the woods began to grow dark around them. –Game of Thrones –George R.R. Martin
“I was the youngest of three daughters.” –Beauty –Robin McKinley
“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” – David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
“I am a sick man . . . I am a spiteful man.” – Notes from Underground –Fyodor Dostoyevsky
“All this happened, more or less.” – Slaughterhouse Five — Kurt Vonnegut
“I am the Vampire Lestat.” –The Vampire Lestat – Anne Rice
“Miss Alexia Tarabotti was not enjoying her evening.” –Soulless –Gail Carriger
“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.” – The Bell Jar –Sylvia Plath
“I’ve watched through his eyes, I’ve listened through his ears, and I’ll tell you he’s the one.” – Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card
“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” – The Gunslinger –Stephen King
“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone –J.K. Rowling