Opening lines have never been more important.
Whether it’s a novel or a blog post, the first sentence should be so intriguing that your audience can’t help but move on to the next sentence, and the next, and the next, and so on.
It’s a necessity, because your audience’s attention span is 140 characters (at best).
Centuries ago, writers competed against gladiators and minstrels for the attentions of entertainment seekers. In the 20th century, they squared off against TV and radio.
Now, you’re competing with tweets from the world’s funniest comedians, short videos from talented filmmakers, and blog posts penned by famous authors—plus TV, radio, Hollywood, minstrels (I guess), and
Bottom line: You’ve got to hook ‘em fast.
For some inspiration—or to make yourself feel bad because these are so
good—here are 10 of the best opening lines from novels, via the American Book Review, which lists the 100 best
1. “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)
2. “All this happened, more or less.” —Kurt Vonnegut, “Slaughterhouse-Five” (1969)
3. “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)
4. “For a long time, I went to bed early.” —Marcel Proust, “Swann's Way” (1913; trans. Lydia Davis)
5. “Dr. Weiss, at forty, knew that her life had been ruined by literature. —Anita Brookner, “The Debut” (1981)
6. “I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974. —Jeffrey Eugenides, “Middlesex” (2002)
7. “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)
8. 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)
9. “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)
10. “Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board.” —Zora Neale Hurston, "Their Eyes Were Watching God" (1937)
Read American Book Review’s full list of the 100 best first lines
I’ve always enjoyed the opener from W. Somerset Maugham’s 1915 novel “Of Human Bondage” (which didn’t make the American Book Review list of first lines, maybe because it’s actually two sentences):
“The day broke grey and dull. The clouds hung heavily, and there was a rawness in the air that suggested snow.”
Any you’d care to add?