Opening Lines

When I was new to writing, I’d read that an author should make the first line the best. It’s your hook, so make it memorable. Another book said an author should sum up the entirety of their book in the first line. I thought that the second was absurd and you couldn’t possibly do both….then I started opening up books in my library.

Here are some of my favorites that I found:

A modern book cover for the novel by Jane Austen.

“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 by Jane Austen

The reader gets several things about this story from this one line: a satirical piece on socioeconomic status in relation to marriage and societal expectations. It’s also as sad commentary on the predicament women were in a the time. They had to ‘land’ a husband or possibly find themselves penniless and homeless.

“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, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

The run on sentence to end all run on sentences.

What’s your favorite first line? Share it in the comments.

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

Comment Section

  • I adore those examples you gave. And this topic of first lines from both a writing and reading perspective.

    I have a thousand favorite first lines. Anything that opens the door of a new story can be immensely exciting. But here is one that was sitting on a close-by bookshelf in my office.

    “In a distant and secondhand set of dimensions, in an astral plane that was never meant to fly, the curling star-mists waver and part . . .
    See . . .
    Great A’Tuin the turtle comes, swimming slowly through the interstellar gulf, hydrogen frost on his ponderous limbs, his huge and ancient shell pocked with meteor craters. Through sea-sized eyes that are crusted with rheum and asteroid dust He stares fixedly at the Destination.”
    — open lines of Prologue of “The Color of Magic” by Terry Pratchett

    I feel that it hints at the style and content of the story, and a glimpse to the ending when it all comes full circle.

    Do you feel that the ending lines of a story can leave us with a certain aftertaste that affects how we feel about the whole story or desire to read more in the series or by that author?

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