Thursday, March 11, 2010

Famous Opening Lines

What makes an opening line become famous? Is it the words chosen? The rhythm produced? It's length? It seems strange that so much is put upon that first sentence of a piece of writing, but throughout history this has been the case.

Call me Ishmael.--Moby Dick (1851), Herman Melville

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.--1984 (Nineteen Eighty-Four) (1949), George Orwell

He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.--The Old Man and the Sea (1952), Ernest Hemingway

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.--A Tale of Two Cities (1859) Charles Dickens

From short, to long, these sentences are proclaimed to be some of the most famous first lines in our history.

A table, two metal chairs, and Anthony Tyner occupied the small musty room.--The Keeper(2010) Cher Green

It seems like a good opening line. What do you think, does it compare?

How do your first lines compare? Share some of your most admired first lines in history.


Aubrie said...

This is a great post! I love first lines and I sweat over mine all the time.

My favorite first line of all time, "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." Pride and Prejudice.

My book's first line,
"Nebula’s fingers struck the keys of the Steinway and a cascade of chords tinkled down like falling stars."

I like your first line. I wonder, why are the chairs metal? That catches my attention.

Anonymous said...

That's a good first line.

I looked at my first line to my novel wip and it is very bland. I will definitly have to work on it, once I'm done with the whole thing.

Metal chairs, it's just what I saw in the room. An interrogation room should be uncomfortable and what is more uncomfortable than those old metal chairs? :)

Terry W. Ervin II said...

The first line for my novel FLANK HAWK reads:

Guzzy signaled for my attention and pointed over the gully’s lip toward the disturbance in the undergrowth.

Certainly not earth shattering in greatness.

I think that while first lines are important, it's the first paragraphs that get the reader--keeps them reading.

Even so, here is one of my favorite first lines:

There is a similarity, if I may be permitted an excursion into tenuous metaphor, between the feel of a chilly breeze and the feel of a knife's blade, as either is laid across the back of the neck. (JHEREG by Steven Brust)

Anonymous said...

Terry, I like your first line.

Sandra Gonzalez said...

I agree with Terry about the first paragraph. When I read I don't put the book down if the first sentence is boring. I usually give it a first page chance.

This is what I think about famous first lines. They project an image into your head or a feeling not written.

The clock one is spooky because of the 13. Two reasons: no 13 on the clock (obvious) and 13 is typically an unlucky number.

The Old Man and the Sea is giving the air of miracles and asking questions. How can he still be alive?

I'm new to writing but here's my take of your sentence. I see where you are going but it's missing the detail you mentioned in an above comment. Think of something he can do, see, hear ...smell that will make people uncomfortable. Notice I didn't say feel. You do the writing and let the reader do the feeling and thinking.

Sounds so much easier than doing it. I'm still frazzled.

Anonymous said...

Sandra, thanks for commenting. I agree that you should create something unforgettable in as few words as possible.

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