I love opening lines. I love bending back the cover of a new book and turning to the first page, reading the very first thing the author thought I should read when she wrote that book. And I always pause after reading that first sentence. Does it instantly leave me wanting more, does it tease me with mystery and wonder, does it keep me reading?
Some opening lines are short, effective and memorable. “Call me Ishmael” is the classic opening line of Moby Dick by Herman Melville. “All this happened, more or less“ is the first thing you read in Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. “It was a pleasure to burn,” writes Ray Bradbury in Fahrenheit 451. And Ayn Rand begins Atlas Shrugged with a question, “Who is John Galt?”
Some opening lines are longer but just as memorable. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” begins A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, but then continues with, “it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” for the remainder of the first paragraph of the book.
Some opening lines are just awful, the most famous of which, written by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton in 1830, has given birth to the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for the worst first line of a book: "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.”
Some of my personal favorites are:
“There's a bullet in my chest, less than a centimeter from my heart.” (A Cold Day in Paradise by Steve Hamilton)
"I was trapped in a house with a lawyer, a bare-breasted woman and a dead man. The rattlesnake in the paper sack only complicated matters." (Fat Tuesday by Earl Emerson)
"My day didn't start with murder, although the thought crossed my mind." (Fool's Puzzle by Earlene Fowler)
"As dead people went, Bess Leander smelled pretty good: lavender, sage and a hint of clove." (The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove, by Christopher Moore)
And, of course: “This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it.” (The Princess Bride by William Goldman)
I've even been told the opening lines of my own Never Say Die aren't too bad:
"Zoey Morgan had once heard the cynical adage, 'Any day you don't wake up in a chalk outline is a good day.' Oh, yeah? she thought now. What if that's precisely where you awoke? What kind of day was it then? Obviously, your last."
So, what are some of your favorite opening lines?
Happy reading, and remember — don’t always judge a book by its cover or even by its opening lines. The best part doesn't always come at the beginning. But sometimes what's there is pretty good