First impressions can be significant.

That first meeting with someone, your first taste of Brussels sprouts or reading the first line of a book–we get an instant, often lasting, impression.

“A man’s look is the work of years; it is stamped on his countenance by the events of his whole life, nay, more, by the hand of nature, and it is not to be got rid of easily.”  —William Hazlitt

I guess it’s kind of like the imprinting phenomenon for the wolves in the Twilight series, they are forever branded once they experience their love at first sight moment (although when it happens to Jacob in Breaking Dawn, it’s a bit bizarre).

 

But the best first lines not only impress, they offer a glimpse into the entire story to come.

“The boy who lived.”
–Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone  by J.K. Rowling

“It was a pleasure to burn.”

  –Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

“We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.”

–Feed by M.T. Anderson

“There is no lake at Camp Green Lake.”

–Holes by Louis Sachar

 

The best first lines make the reader curious, instantly pulling you further into the story.

“It was the day my grandmother exploded.”

–The Crow Road by Iian Banks

“The winds in Washokey make people go crazy.”

–Like Mandarin  by Kirsten Hubbard

“Once upon a time, fairy tales were awesome.”

–A Tale Dark and Grim by Adam Gidwitz

 

Sometimes the best first line tells you so much about the main character.

“My name is India Opal Buloni, and last summer my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog.”
–Because of Winn Dixie by Kate Dicamillo

“It was fun at first, playing house.”

–Love, Aubrey Suzanne LaFleur

 

Or they simply inspire.

“So she tells me, the words dribbling out with the cranberry muffin crumbs, commas dunked in her coffee.”  

Wintergirls  by Laurie Halse Anderson

 

First lines are special, crucial to both reader and writer, because they often determine the success of the rest of the story.

“He who therefore fails to please in his salutation and address is at once rejected, and never obtains an opportunity of showing his latest excellences or essential qualities.”–Samuel Johnson

What is your impression on the first line?   Do you have a favorite story opening?

 

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23 thoughts on “It was the Best of First Lines

          1. Prudence MacLeod

            I just found it. That has been lying fallow for years. Maybe I should dust it off. You’ve got me thinking though, That opening line can make or break a story. Must keep that in mind.

  1. Susanna Hill

    First lines are SO important, especially in children’s literature because kids don’t necessarily have the patience to give a book more time – if the first sentence doesn’t hook them they put it back.

    I love the first line of Winn Dixie you quoted. Also the famous, “Where’s Papa going with that axe?” from Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, “It was almost December and Jonas was beginning to be frightened” from The Giver by Lois Lowry, and “Patrick’s house was a ghost.” from Shine by Lauren Myracle.

    It’s interesting, though, how many books really require a first paragraph to really hook you. The first sentence alone really isn’t enough. The “Where’s Papa going with that axe” type openings are surprisingly rare. I could pull ten books I love off the shelf in a row, and possibly none of them would grab with the first sentence alone.

  2. Jennette Marie Powell

    One that’s stuck with me for many years: “So let me get this straight- you want toget Cal Bonner a woman for his birthday?” from Nobody’s Baby but Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. First lines are so important in drawing the reader in especially when we have to compete with TV, games, the Internet and more!
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  3. Debra Kristi

    I love a good catch line – hook. I few I’m partial to: “I’d die for him. No, wait a minute…that’s not where this is supposed to begin.” from Faefever by Karen Marie Moning, “I am Tresa the Weaver, Tersa the Liar, Tersa the Fool.” from Daughter of the Blood by Anne Bishop and finally (just fell in love with this hook over the summer) “Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.” From Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. But really, two of those are more than a sentence. They are two mashed together.
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  4. Julia Whitmore

    How about this one? “When the lands and goods of Ivar Gjesling the younger, of Sundbu, were divided after his death in 1306, his lands in Sil of Gudbrandsdal fell to his daughter Ragnfrid and her husband Lavrans Bjorgulfson.” My 19 year old says a snore, I say a classic. Warm up the tea kettle and get ready for a long, complex, Nordic read, right? It’s from Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset, first published in 1923, Nobel prize in literature in printed in 1929, and reprinted umpteen times.

  5. Tim L O'Brien

    A favorite from my teenage years that for some reason still has the same affect on me now: “When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.”

  6. Lena Corazon

    I have a heck of a time trying to settle on my own opening lines, and for that reason I usually write them close to last, once I have a better sense of where I’m going and what’s going to happen. The line that I like best at the moment is, “Tempest DuMont was no lady.” 🙂

    In terms of published work, my favorite comes from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” It’s classic Austen, and sums up the dry wit that pervades all of her work.

  7. Pat O'Dea Rosen

    I’ll think of more tomorrow, but here are two I like a lot:

    It wasn’t every day a guy saw a headless beaver marching down the side of a road, not even in Dean Robillard’s larger than life world.
    Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Natural Born Charmer

    Dr. Weiss, at forty, knew that her life had been ruined by literature.
    Anita Brookner The Debut

  8. Sheila Seabrook

    My favorite first lines are always changing. Right now, I’m in awe of Amanda Hocking’s first line from her book Hollowland. I can’t get it out of my head. 🙂

    “This is the way the world ends; not with a bang or a whimper, but with zombies breaking down the back door.”

    Enjoyed reading all the first lines listed in the post and in the comments!
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  9. Karen McFarland

    Okay, I can see I need to get here earlier. Lena stole my first line. But that’s what I get for showing up to the party late!

    So my next choice would have to be: “Three women get off of a plane; it sounded like a joke.” Elin Hilderbrand.

    Call me silly, but it gets me to laugh everytime.

    Great post Coleen! What a great way to get everyone involved. And by the way, thanks so much for all your visits and comments. You’ve been so encouraging. 🙂

  10. Louise Behiel

    I love Linda Howard’s opening line in McKenzie’s Mountain…”He needed a woman. Bad.”

    tells you lots about the hero and the story. and tells you what I read. thanks for making me look this us, coleen. I love this series.

  11. August McLaughlin

    Great post, Coleen! It’s hard to pick a favorite opening line… But I do find that my favorite books “have me” from the get-go. I also find them fun to write. A solid, captivating hook makes me want to keep writing as well.
    August McLaughlin recently posted..Writing GrandadMy Profile

  12. Julie Hedlund

    This is so great! I love reading all these first lines. My favorite, as you probably know, is from A Prayer for Owen Meany.

    “I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice–not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God.”

    I love the first line of Because of Winn-Dixie someone shared. Definitely makes me want to read the book (which I haven’t yet).

  13. Emma Burcart

    Those were some good ones. I love first lines that draw me in. I don’t seem to remember them later, because I can’t think of any now, but in that moment when I read them they tell me if I’m going to love the book, hate it, or just think it’s so-so. As a reader, agent advice about first lines actually does make sense. It can make the diffence between buying and putting back on the shelf, at least for me.

  14. Melinda

    Whenever I do a book review I always show the first line and my reaction to it. It’s so important! I guess I’m hoping that by the time I’m published I’ll have learned from all these other people 🙂

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