When I was taking my very first creative writing class, there was one assignment that has stayed with me ever since. My instructor, Nathan Holic (newly published author of American Fraternity Man) said that the opening line of a story “is perhaps the most important single sentence of the piece.” It can introduce character, setting, tone and theme. It can be a short declarative statement, or at can be a lengthy descriptive one.
Since I am in the middle of a writing marathon, I figured I’d give you this to chew on: A list of some of the opening lines of my favorite books and current reads. Some authors get the importance of an opening line, while others do not. Feel free to tell me your thoughts. Would you read these books based on opening lines alone? Are they boring? Are they intriguing. Do they tell you anything about the book or character or setting? And, please, feel free to share your favorite opening lines, as well.
“On February 24, 1815, the watchtower at Marseilles signaled the arrival of the three-master Pharaon, coming from Smyrna, Trieste and Naples.”
– The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
“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, J.D. Salinger
“It was only a duck pond, out at the back of the farm. It wasn’t very big.”
– The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman
“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”
– Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K. Rowling
“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, Jane Austen
“It’s a long way in time and space from the bathroom of my Grandmother Mowat’s house in Oakville, Ontario, to the bottom of a wolf den in the Barren Lands of central Keewatin, and I have no intention of retracing the entire road which lies between.”
– Never Cry Wolf, Farley Mowat
“It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.”
– Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
“There was a hand in the darkness and it held a knife.”
– The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman
“The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years—if it ever did end—began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.”
– It, Stephen King
While some of these lines can be deceiving, ALL of these books are just wonderful. Each of these lines can tell you something about what is going to take place in this book. In The Count of Monte Cristo, the opening lines establish the setting and, presumably, the occupation of the main character. In Pride and Prejudice, one can guess that the book will deal with people getting married.
And as an extra special bonus, here is the opening line from the story I am currently working on:
The loud whine of the semi-truck’s engine reverberated all around Berta Poe as she lay in the back cabin of her dad’s rig pretending to be a corpse.
– The True Tales of Fairies, Donna Cooper Ho