First lines. They’re meant to grab the reader, set the tone, create questions... If you Google first lines, you’ll come up with hundreds of famous ones. Here are a few; see if they make you want to read the book, if you haven’t already.
It is a truth universally acknowledged,that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. – Jane Austin, Pride and Prejudice – This is one of my favorites! I love this story.
Call me Ishmael. – Herman Melville, Moby Dick – (probably the most well-known)
Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. – Vladimir Nobokov, Lolita – “fire of my loins” would sure get some people to read on!
Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo. James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – and that’s why I cut my 8 AM English 101 class at American University! Sometimes I overuse commas, but this sentence sure could use a few!
Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself. – Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway – Even if you’re not a Virginia Woolf fan, read The Hours by Michael Cunningham which weaves Mrs. Dalloway into the story.
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 – You can’t tell me that wouldn’t make you want to read on; and you should. It’s a great book.
We started dying before the snow, and like the snow, we continued to fall. – Louise Erdrich, Tracks – OK, I just put that book on my reading list.
You better not never tell nobody but God. – Alice Walker, The Color Purple- makes you wonder, doesn’t it?
A certain feeling comes from throwing your good life away, and it is one part rapture. - Barbara Kingsolver, Flight Behavior - This is Kingsolver's latest novel and it's sitting on my night table waiting to be read. After hearing her speak at the 92nd Street Y, I specifically read her first line, since she said she's a real fan of first lines.
In researching first lines, I came across one that’s way too long to print here. It’s from Double or Nothing by Raymond Federman – seriously the longest first line I’ve ever read.If I wrote like that my readers/reviewers would have screamed “Cut! How about some punctuation?” and I’m sure an agent would throw it out, not even read past the first few words. But, I’m not Federman, or any of these other esteemed authors. I’m ME, waiting to have my debut novel published someday. And, in traveling down that road, I re-wrote the first line to my book, Flourish. I thought I was married to the one I originally had, or not originally – that one was dumped two years ago. I realized the one I was using, I thought terrific, really gave too much of the story away. It took all the mystery out (no, the novel is not a mystery). The reader already knew the ending if she paid attention to the first line. So, it’s gone! Tossed. Garbage. The second sentence actually became the first. Here it is:
The shadow from the half empty closet loomed across the room.
Does it make you wonder why there's a shadow? Why there's a half empty closet? What does it all mean? If that makes you want to read more, you can find the entire first chapter on my website: www.linda-rosen.com.
Pay specific attention to the first line of the book you're reading. Re-read it. Taste it. Sit with it for a moment. Some are gems. Now, go open a book, sit back, and enjoy!
Mrs.and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a boy named baby tuckoo.nce upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo.
Once a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met boy named baby
It is a truth universally a truth universally It and Prejudice (1813that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. —Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)