An opening line can sometimes make or break a book; it can compel the reader on to the next chapter or force them to close the book for good. Just like the common pick-up line, some are old and used up while others are unique and as different as the people who use them.
I took a break this weekend from writing because I couldn’t come up with a decent opening sentence for the chapter I am writing. Not ‘writer’s block’ per say, but, I just could not find a good hook to lure you in with. Instead, I looked for some of the great opening lines that bought me drinks and dinner and ultimately joined me in bed.
“Call me Ishmael.” - Herman Melville, Moby-Dick(1851)
“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 (1813)
“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” - Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (1877)
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” - George Orwell, 1984 (1949)
“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.” - Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
“I am an invisible man.” - Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952
“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” - J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (1951)
“Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting.” - William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury (1929)
“All this happened, more or less.” - Kurt Vonnegut,Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)
“Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board.” - Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)
“I had the story, bit by bit, from various people, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story.” - Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome (1911)
“He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.” - Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea (1952)
“Elmer Gantry was drunk.” - Sinclair Lewis, Elmer Gantry (1927)
“It was a pleasure to burn.” - Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
“A story has no beginning or end; arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.” - Graham Greene, The End of the Affair(1951)
“It was love at first sight.” - Joseph Heller,Catch-22 (1961)
“I have never begun a novel with more misgiving.” - W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor's Edge (1944)
“Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.” - Anne Tyler, Back When We Were Grownups (2001)
“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.” - F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925)
“You better not never tell nobody but God.” - Alice Walker,The Color Purple (1982)
"To be born again," sang Gibreel Farishta tumbling from the heavens, "first you have to die." - Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses (1988)
“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York.” -Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar (1963)
“Of all the things that drive men to sea, the most common disaster, I've come to learn, is women.” - Charles Johnson,Middle Passage (1990)
“High, high above the North Pole, on the first day of 1969, two professors of English Literature approached each other at a combined velocity of 1200 miles per hour.” - David Lodge,Changing Places (1975)
“The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting.” - Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage (1895)
“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 Lord of the Rings (1954-1955), J.R.R. Tolkien
“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.” Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka
“My mother is standing in front of the bathroom mirror smelling polished and ready; like Jean Naté, Dippity Do and the waxy sweetness of lipstick. Her white, handgun-shaped blow-dryer is lying on top of the wicker clothes hamper, ticking as it cools. She stands back and smoothes her hands down the front of her swirling, psychedelic Pucci dress, biting the inside of her cheek. ’Damn it,’ she says, ’something isn’t right.” Running with Scissors, Augusten Burroughs
“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.” The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.” Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson
Hopefully one of these will serve as an inspiration to my next chapter…if not, maybe it will spur me on to pick up one of these greats and relive the adventure.
If you have any great lines you want to share, tell me about them!