Beginnings matter. A writer in search of a way to pull readers in need look no further than a strong opening line. Not all opening lines are created equal. They come in great variety. But they typically arrest attention and set the tone for all that is to come. Here are some of my favorites:
The Dramatic Opening
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four
By the last word we know something is terribly wrong in this world of Orwell’s.
“It was a pleasure to burn.” Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
The sinister, almost sadistic, quality of this dystopia glows through this deceptively simple sentence.
“Call me Ishmael.” Herman Melville, Moby Dick
Foreboding and uncertain (Is there another name we should use instead, and if so, why?), these three words invite us to hear a story from a man with a name full of biblical resonance.
“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
The main character is introduced, as is the gist of his quest, with wry wit.
The Thesis Opening
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
Because no self-respecting novelist would write a story like many others, we know this will be a story of one of those unique, unhappy families.
“Life is difficult.”
M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled
Peck flings a bucketful of cold realism into our overly optimistic faces, waking us from our self-help stupor.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
And we know just the woman for such a man–or at least we will shortly!
“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.” Charles Dickens, Tale of Two Cities
Not surprisingly, Dickens gets the prize for the best, longest run-on opening line.
The Ultimate Cosmic Opening
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The Bible
Starts with the biggest bang of all.
What are your favorite opening lines?