Book Review · Writing Tips and Prompts

Opening Lines

A friend of mine shared this list of The Best 100 Opening Lines From Books with me on Facebook. I would have been happy to read this kind of list any time, but since I was struggling to come up with a topic for this post it was doubly welcome. I’ve read only 22 of the books on the list, but the lines are famous enough that I’d heard of several others.

  • “He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.” Scaramouche, Raphael Sabatini
  • “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen
  • “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
  • “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C. S. Lewis.
  • “I set an ant on fire once.” The Heather and the Falcon, Maris McKay

Of course, that last one wasn’t actually on the list. Maybe someday.

Writing A Good First Line

It’s been said that the first and last lines of your novel are the most important. All the words in between are vital, but it is the first line that will hook (or not hook) your readers and determine whether or not they keep reading.

Here’s my advice: just start writing. Don’t worry about the opening line until you are editing. You may find the perfect opening line on page 2 (or 3, or 7, or 21) and cut huge chunks of the intro. You may be struck with a bold of creative lightening when you’re writing the closing line. One thing you don’t want to do is spend hours anguishing over the perfect first line, and then find out it doesn’t fit your finished story.

Here’s a great article about writing a “killer opening.” It has more examples as well as helpful tips. Just keep in mind that the rules can be bent if for a good reason. For example, “short and snappy” would have ruined Charles Dickens’ paragraph-long introduction to A Tale of Two Cities.

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.

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