“It was a cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
That arresting line begins one of the most famous novels of the twentieth century: George Orwell’s 1984.
The first sentence of any article or book is kinda important, even if it’s borrowed, like the first line of this blog post. Your first sentence should be well-written and striking, intriguing, promising, and/or inviting. It should draw in the reader like a carnival barker’s pitch or a Buzzfeed headline.
Some of the most famous lines in literature are opening sentences, such as “Call me Ishmael” (Moby Dick) and “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” (A Tale of Two Cities).
To give you great examples and (one can hope) inspire your future first lines, below are eighteen opening lines. Can you identify the book and author? (Here’s a hint: All but two are from novels, and one is from an acclaimed children’s book).
- The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fog revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting.
- Midway on this life’s journey I entered a dark wood.
- Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.
- It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
- 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.
- Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting.
- On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below.
- In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
- He was an inch, perhaps two, under six feet, powerfully built, and he advanced straight at you with a slight stoop of the shoulders, head forward, and a fixed from-under stare which made you think of a charging bull.
- I wake to the drone of an airplane engine and the feeling of something warm dripping down my chin.
- Buck did not read the newspapers, or he would have known that trouble was brewing, not alone for himself, but for every tide-water dog, strong of muscle and with warm, long hair, from Puget Sound to San Diego.
- He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Steam and he had gone forty days now without taking a fish.
- He—for there could be no doubt about his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it—was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters.
- By the time Eustace Conway was seven years old, he could throw a knife accurately enough to nail a chipmunk to a tree.
- Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty that seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress.
- The towers of Zenith aspired above the morning mist; austere towers of steel and cement and limestone, sturdy as cliffs and delicate as silver rods.
- When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.
- “Where’s Papa going with that ax?”
Answers: (1) Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage; (2) Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy; (3) Charles Dickens, David Copperfield; (4) Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice; (5) J. D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye; (6) William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury; (7) Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey; (8) F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby; (9) Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim; (10) James Frey, A Million Little Pieces; (11) Jack London, The Call of the Wild; (12) Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea; (13) Virginia Woolf, Orlando; (14) Elizabeth Gilbert, The Last American Man; (15) George Eliot, Middlemarch; (16) Sinclair Lewis, Babbitt; (17) Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis; (18) E. B. White, Charlotte’s Web.