Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Best First Lines of Novels

This is something I'm very much struggling with right now--the first line of my current book. I haven't had much problem with this in the past, but my original first line both broke POV and was passive (which is sad, since when I wrote it I thought it was great.) I want the inciting incident to happen in the first line . . . but after much thought, I'm still empty handed. recently published the "100 Best First Lines of Novels" list--worth checking out. And yes, #1 is "Call me Ishmael."

Some of my favorites:

"They shoot the white girl first." #42, from Tony Morrison's Paradise 

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." #2, from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice

"This is the saddest story I've ever heard." #18, from Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier

Though I admit I don't see what's so special about #59...

What are your favorite first lines? Care to share the first line of your current work?

"Teague was still a child when she awoke." -Weirs, chapter 1. (Not current project, but as I said, a first line doesn't exist for TDSF yet :/)


  1. #59 is because it's from Catch-22, and it's a requirement to put Catch-22 on any literary list.

    Honestly, that list seemed more like "here are a bunch of famous books and oh, what a surprise, their first lines are actually pretty good." :P

    And hey, I made a blog post about first lines a while back and how I think authors and readers dwell too much on them. But I won't be shameless and put the url, instead I'll put the first like of Effulgent Corruption.

    "Drake's second life began as his first: naked, screaming, and with excruciating pain racking his entire body."

  2. Chuck, I think you'd enjoy this. Mom and Dad's newspaper tends to publish these after the contest.

  3. As someone who believes in choosing words carefully, I think first lines are important. Well, every line is important, but the first one is going to really impact your reader in a subconscious way. It will tell them how to approach the book and the characters.

    "Howard Roark laughed. He stood naked at the edge of a cliff." --The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand. (I know, it's two lines, but it's so great!)

    And this one is a good example of putting your reader right into the story, making what has already happened in the characters' lives real and bringing them up to speed on it:

    "They were supposed to stay at the beach a week, but neither of them had the heart for it and they decided to come back early." --The Accidental Tourist, Anne Tyler.

  4. I think I'll always have that line from Pride and Prejudice tattooed across my forehead. I love that book. I love the first line from Wither. If I remember right, all it is, is this: I wait. So short, but immediately I wanted to know what was going on.

  5. I LOVE first lines. It's amazing to see what you can capture in so little. Love it. Great post!

  6. My current project begins
    "Reese ran from the hangar, adrenaline pumping her legs faster than they'd ever gone before."

    You might not even see this for a while since I'm posting so late, but I thought as long as we're sharing...