Open Sesame: Great First Lines

by | Aug 5, 2013 | Lists, Reading, Writing | 2 comments

Maybe be a little more creative...

Maybe be a little more creative…

Happy Monday, folks! This Monday has afforded me the dubious pleasure of starting work on my third round of revisions now that most of my beta-readers have gotten back to me with edits. Although I gotta say, so far work has been going very sloooowly. On the upside, I’ve been able to take a long hard look at the way my novel opens: first line, first paragraph, first chapter. And it’s got me thinking a lot about openings in general.

There are so many amazing first lines in literature. No two are the same, but all share one important feature: they hook the reader’s attention, and then make the reader ask questions whose answers only lie in the following pages. Some begin with a musing or a remembrance from the main character. Others employ the technique of beginning a story in media res, dropping the reader right into the middle of the action without any context or background. But all great opening lines make the reader want to continue reading.

So, with no further ado, I present to you my top 10 favorite opening lines from literature!

10) “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.” The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger

9) “I’d always welcomed war, but in battle my passion rose unbidden.” Nightshade, Andrea Cremer

8) “A writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins of a word of praise in exchange for a story … a writer is condemned to remember that moment, because from then on he is doomed and his soul has a price.” The Angel’s Game, Carlos Ruiz Zafon

7) “There is no lake at Camp Green Lake.” Holes, Louis Sachar

6) “Blue Sargent had forgotten how many times she’d been told that she would kill her true love.” The Raven Boys, Maggie Stiefvater

5) “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

4) “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen

3) “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” 1984, George Orwell

2) “Birthdays were wretched, delicious things when you lived in Beau Rivage. The clock struck midnight, and presents gave way to magic.” Kill Me Softly, Sarah Cross

1) “The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.” The Gunslinger, Stephen King

Do you have favorite opening lines in literature? What do you think makes a successful opening? Leave you thoughts in the comment section below!


  1. Sam Ochre

    In the passionate dark of dawn, on the path between death and life, within view of the watchful stars and within earshot of the beautiful, obscure anthems, a voice told of the trials and joys promised to our alley. — The Harafish, Naguib Mahfouz

    Mahfouz’s first sentence encompasses the first chapter. I like that it’s a primer for the book – an introductory statement that maybe in other books would appear in italics at the top of the first chapter, but here is committed, demanding the reader’s attention.

    • Lyra Selene

      That is a beautiful first line. I know spouse loves The Harafish, and I’ve been meaning to read it also. Thanks for sharing!