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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.

Infoplease.com 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 :/)


6 comments:

  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."

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  2. Chuck, I think you'd enjoy this. Mom and Dad's newspaper tends to publish these after the contest. http://www.bulwer-lytton.com/

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  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.

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  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.

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

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  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...

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