First Lines Matter: Famous Sentences that Begin Our Favorite Novels

Posted by on Aug 24, 2015 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

photo-1431578500526-4d9613015464The first line of your short story, novel, or essay is arguably the most important sentence you will every write throughout the piece. It is just as important, or perhaps even more so, than the last line because it’s what connects the beginning to the end. The first line is important obviously because it is the very first thing anyone will read of this. If it’s your first novel, then it is the first thing anyone will read of your work ever. So, this isn’t something to be taken lightly.

Imagine you haven’t eaten a single cupcake in your entire life and then you take your first bite in the most succulent piece of your favorite flavor. That’s your first sentence. It has to be that sweet, that memorable, that worthy. I was always told your conflict needs to be introduced in the first three pages of your book or else no one will care. If you’re really good, you’ll introduce it in the first paragraph. Even better, the first couple sentences. I’ve accumulated some of my own favorite first lines.

“Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know.”

– Albert Camus, The Stranger

“Don’t be afraid. My telling can’t hurt you in spite of what I have done and I promise to lie quietly in the dark—weeping perhaps or occasionally seeing the blood once more—but I will never again unfold my limbs to rise up and bare teeth.”

– Tony Morrison, A Mercy

“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.”

– Albert Camus, “The Myth of Sisyphus”

“It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.”

– Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

“The morning after noted child prodigy Colin Singleton graduated from high school and got dumped for the nineteenth time by a girl named Katherine, he took a bath.”

– John Green, An Abundance of Katherines

“She is lying naked on her back on a marble bench in an open place with no walls or ceilings.”

– Sinan Antoon, The Corpse Washer

“My journal is a private affair, but as I cannot know the time of my coming death, and since I am not disposed, however unfortunately, to the serious consideration of self-termination, I am afraid that others will see these pages.”

– Percival Everett, Erasure

“Years later when I read T.S. Eliot’s line that April was the cruelest month, I would recall what happened to me one April day in 1954, in chilly Limuru, the prime estate of what, in 1902, another Eliot, Sir Charles Eliot, then governor of colonial Kenya, had set aside as White Highlands.”

– Ngugi Wa Thiong’O, Dreams in a Time of War

“They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did.”

– Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea

“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”

– J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

“Amory Blaine inherited from his mother every trait, except the stray inexpressible few, that made him worth while.”

– F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise

“I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975.”

– Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

Now reading all of these, you’re already wondering Why? Who is this? What happened to them? The reason we love all of these things is because most of them are succinct protagonist descriptions, in media res observations, or a combination of the two. These are all extremely well crafted first liners that instantly attract you to the book. You want to keep reading because you want to know what happens. Every sentence should be this good, this delicious, but especially the first one. Without that first hook, there’s no reason for me as a reader to keep reading.

That being said, don’t get stuck on first lines. Just start writing and then, during revision, come back to it. With all great things, it comes back to revision. So, don’t think you can’t write a word without that first line, but know that first lines matter. A lot.


P.T.StoneP.T. Stone is a student at Clemson University studying English and Philosophy. He is an avid writer of poetry and prose, a composer, a frequent Facebook ranter, and a pure-bred digital generation brat. He is finishing his first novel, flowers with no petals, and has literary blogs here and here. When he isn’t trying to become famous writing, acting, or singing, Preston can be found chasing fluffy kitties to use as pillows while they purr or Instagram stalking Lady Gaga.

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