The first sentence is arguably the most important component of any literary work, be it a short story, an essay, or a novel (or even a blog post!). The opening line gives readers insight into the writer’s voice and style while simultaneously drawing them into the story, piquing their interest and making them wonder what is going on, and, more importantly, what is going to happen next. A good opening line can make a story, just like a bad one can break it; after all, if the first sentence isn’t all that great, how likely are you to keep reading the book? Probably not all that likely.
So what are some of the best opening lines in literature, the ones that send shivers down our spines, get us excited to read? Well, I’ll tell you.
Here is a compilation of just twenty of the best opening lines in literature. Obviously, there are *many* more fantastic ones out there, so rest assured, dear readers, that there will be several followups to this post. If any of your favorites didn’t make it onto this post, write me and let me know so I can make sure they are in the next one. Enjoy!
All this happened, more or less.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time~Mark Haddon
It was 7 minutes after midnight. The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of Mrs Shears’ house. Its eyes were closed.
The Book Thief~Markus Zusak
First the colours.
Then the humans.
That’s how I usually see things.
Or at least, how I try.
*** HERE IS A SMALL FACT ***
You are going to die.
It was a bright, cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
American Psycho~Bret Easton Ellis
ABANDON ALL HOPE YE WHO ENTER HERE is scrawled in blood red lettering on the side of the Chemical Bank near the corner of Eleventh and First and is in print large enough to be seen from the backseat of the cab as it lurches forward in the traffic leaving Wall Street and just as Timothy Price notices the words a bus pulls up, the advertisement for Les Miserables on its side blocking his view, but Price who is with Pierce & Pierce and twenty-six doesn’t seem to care because he tells the driver he will give him five dollars to turn up the radio, “Be My Baby” on WYNN, and the driver, black, not American, does so.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man~James Joyce
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.
Their Eyes Were Watching God~Zora Neale Hurston
Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.
The Crow Road~Iain Banks
It was the day my grandmother exploded.
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.
Having placed in my mouth sufficient bread for three minutes’ chewing, I withdrew my own powers of sensual perception and retired into the privacy of my mind, my eyes and face assuming a vacant and preoccupied expression.
In eighteenth-century France there lived a man who was one of the most gifted and abominable personages in an era that knew no lack of gifted and abominable personages. His story will be told here.
The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.
The Great Gatsby~F. Scott Fitzgerald
In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
A Visit from the Goon Squad~Jennifer Egan
It began the usual way, in the bathroom of the Lassimo Hotel.
Life of Pi~Yann Martel
This book was born as I was hungry. Let me explain.
The Metamorphosis~Franz Kafka
As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect*.
*in some translations this is “vermin.”
The Shadow of the Wind~Carlos Ruiz Zafon
I still remember the day my father took me to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books for the first time.
Anna Karenina~Leo Tolstoy
Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
The End of the Affair~Graham Greene
A story has no beginning or end; arbitrarily one chooses the moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.
The Stranger~Albert Camus
Mother died today.