Favorite Opening Lines
All the writing advice out there discuss the importance of that opening line—that hook—that gets your potential reader to sit down, pay attention, and want to turn the pages. Here are 3 opening lines that have stayed with me.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
We all know this one, and I’d bet that even those who haven’t read Pride and Prejudice have heard the sentence, or at least a parody of it.
It’s ironic, it’s memorable, and Austen’s voice comes through loud and clear. We get a hint at the high stakes when it comes to marriage---and what marriage means to women, not men. It’s not the single man, but the women and their families who Austen shows having the interest and the agency in marrying. The tone is set, tongue firmly in cheek, and we’re off. Everyone knows a rich, single man is just dying to get married, right? Is there a more enticing line that also shows an author’s style as well as Austen does with this one sentence?
When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is fraught with issues, and it’s also an excellent work of fiction that shows the loss of childhood innocence bit by painful bit. Lines and scenes from this book live rent free in my head. The line is direct, like our protagonist Scout. It has a circular beginning and teases a dramatic incident in that first line. He got his arm broken; he didn’t break it. Had his elbow broken how?? By whom?!
Marley was dead, to begin with.
In no uncertain terms, no matter what happens next, Jacob Marley in Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol is dead. There is a finality to start off this story; no Victorian flowery prose. But this isn't just a ghost story, but rather a time-travel, redemptive arc that all starts because Marley is dead, and his ghost wants to save Scrooge from the same fate. Without Marley's death, without this declarative statement---that’s not ironic like Austen’s--Scrooge can’t be saved.
Austen, Lee, and Dickens are impossible acts to follow but, hopefully, I haven’t done myself a disservice in sharing the first line of my full-length Pride and Prejudice variation that will come out early next year.
Here I am, sitting in my bed-gown, my hair out of curl and hanging about my face, staring at my sickly reflection.
What's up with our girl? Is she going to be okay? What's got her thinking such un-lively, un-Elizabeth-like thoughts? I'll be back in a few months with more details about this new story.
Don’t even get me started on other books I’ve loved and their first lines: Jo grumbling on the rug about no presents, no possibility of taking a walk, and even every Who down in Who-ville and twelve little girls in two straight lines.
What first lines have stayed with you?