Famous First Lines
The opening line of a story or novel is one of the most important sentences in the entire work. Opening lines have given us some of the greatest quotes in literary lore. Here is a sampling from books on my shelves–both classics and modern releases:
All children, except one, grow up.
—Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie
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
It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
—1984 by George Orwell
One size does not fit all.
—Miss Invisible by Laura Jensen Walker
You better not never tell nobody but God.
—The Color Purple by Alice Walker
As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed into a giant insect.
—Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
Once upon a time there was a Martian named Valentine Michael Smith.
—Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein
It was a dark and stormy night.
—A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.
—A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Call me Ishmael.
—Moby Dick by Herman Melville
He should never have taken that shortcut.
—Timeline by Michael Crichton
Ryan was nearly killed twice in half an hour.
—Patriot Games by Tom Clancy
The hunter waited patiently for his prey.
—Guardian Angel by Julie Garwood
Once upon a time, sixty years ago, a little girl lived in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, in a little gray house made of logs.
—Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
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 by J.R.R. Tolkien
My name is Toby Heydon and I am practically seventeen years old, since my sixteenth birthday was five whole months ago.
—Practically Seventeen by Rosamond du Jardin
“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents.”
—Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
The crack of the pistol’s report came from directly behind the courier.
—Daughter of Liberty by J.M. Hochstetler
Kate O’Malley had been in the dungeon since dawn.
—The Negotiator by Dee Henderson
He barely escaped with his shirt.
—Happily Ever After by Susan May Warren
Growling with battle fury, Rowan of Emrys wrenched his sword from the rib cage of the tattooed barbarian.
—Maire by Linda Windsor
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 by J.K. Rowling
Pick up some novels off your shelves and post a few of your favorite first lines. Next time, we’ll look at our own first lines and talk about how choosing just the right opening line can change the entire tone of your story–and give it the pop it needs to hook potential editors and readers.
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